Auditory cognitive aging in amateur singers and non-singers.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Cognition, Volume 230, p.105311 (2023)


Adult, Aged, Cognitive Aging, Cross-Sectional Studies, Humans, Middle Aged, Music, Pitch Discrimination, Singing


<p>The notion that lifestyle factors, such as music-making activities, can affect cognitive functioning and reduce cognitive decline in aging is often referred to as the mental exercise hypothesis. One ubiquitous musical activity is choir singing. Like other musical activities, singing is hypothesized to impact cognitive and especially executive functions. Despite the commonness of choir singing, little is known about the extent to which singing can affect cognition in adulthood. In this cross-sectional group study, we examined the relationship between age and four auditory executive functions to test hypotheses about the relationship between the level of mental activity and cognitive functioning. We also examined pitch discrimination capabilities. A non-probabilistic sample of 147 cognitively healthy adults was recruited, which included 75 non-singers (mean age 52.5 ± 20.3; 20-98 years) and 72 singers (mean age 55.5 ± 19.2; 21-87 years). Tests of selective attention, processing speed, inhibitory control, and working memory were administered to all participants. Our main hypothesis was that executive functions and age would be negatively correlated, and that this relationship would be stronger in non-singers than singers, consistent with the differential preservation hypothesis. The alternative hypothesis - preserved differentiation - predicts that the difference between singers and non-singers in executive functions is unaffected by age. Our results reveal a detrimental effect of age on processing speed, selective attention, inhibitory control and working memory. The effect of singing was comparatively more limited, being positively associated only with frequency discrimination, processing speed, and, to some extent, inhibitory control. Evidence of differential preservation was limited to processing speed. We also found a circumscribed positive impact of age of onset and a negative impact of singing experience on cognitive functioning in singers. Together, these findings were interpreted as reflecting an age-related decline in executive function in cognitively healthy adults, with specific and limited positive impacts of singing, consistent with the preserved differentiation hypothesis, but not with the differential preservation hypothesis.</p>

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