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"Words And Music" -- The Discovery Files

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People who are better able to move to a beat show more consistent brain responses to speech than those with less rhythm, according to a study by Northwestern University scientists.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Words and music

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: beats) How well can you keep a beat? For some it's second nature. That finger tap, head bob, or fist pump to an infectious beat is really a complex symphony of brain and body. Researchers at Northwestern University were looking for a link between the ability to keep a beat, and the brain's response to speech.

The team recruited over a hundred Chicago teens to participate in their study. (Sound effect: metronome) First they had them simply keep time with a metronome by tapping their fingers. Each student's accuracy in keeping time was measured and recorded. In the second phase, the scientists recorded brainwaves from a major brain hub for sound processing as the teens listened to the synthesized speech sound (Sound effect: speech sound: "da") repeated periodically over a half-hour period. (Sound effect: speech sound: "da")

The researchers found that the more accurate the beat-keeper, the more consistent their brain response to the speech sound. Other studies have linked beat-keeping and reading ability, and reading ability with the consistency of the brain's response to sound. The team believes hearing is the common basis for these associations.

Could musical training help children learn to read? The researchers are continuing to evaluate the effects in a multi-year study. (Sound effect: tinny sound of earbuds turned way up) But it's in no way an excuse to blast some beats in your ear buds, and tell your mom you're "working on language skills," word.

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