Learning and retention of novel words in musicians and nonmusicians

Elizabeth C. Stewart, Andrea L. Pittman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to determine whether long-term musical training enhances the ability to perceive and learn new auditory information. Listeners with extensive musical experience were expected to detect, learn, and retain novel words more effectively than participants without musical training. Advantages of musical training were expected to be greater for words learned in multitalker babble compared to quiet. Method: Participants consisted of 20 young adult musicians and 20 age-matched nonmusicians, all with normal hearing. In addition to completing word recognition and nonword detection tasks, each participant learned 10 novel words in a rapid word-learning paradigm. All tasks were completed in quiet and in multitalker babble. Next-day retention of the learned words was examined in isolation (recall) and in the context of continuous discourse (detection). Performance was compared across groups and listening conditions. Results: Performance was significantly poorer in babble than in quiet on word recognition and nonword detection, but not on word learning, learned-word recall, or learned-word detection. No differences were observed between groups (musicians vs. nonmusicians) on any of the tasks. Conclusions: For young normal-hearing adults, auditory experience resulting from long-term music training did not enhance their learning of new auditory information in either favorable (quiet) or unfavorable (babble) listening conditions. This suggests that the formation of semantic and musical representations in memory may be supported by the same underlying auditory processes, such that musical training is simply an extension of an auditory expertise that both musicians and nonmusicians possess.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2870-2884
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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