Broca's area supports enhanced visuospatial cognition in orchestral musicians

Vanessa Sluming, Jonathan Brooks, Matthew Howard, John Joseph Downes, Neil Roberts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

154 Citations (Scopus)


We provide neurobehavioral evidence supporting the transferable benefit of music training to alter brain function and enhance cognitive performance in a nonmusical visuospatial task in professional orchestral musicians. In particular, orchestral musicians' performance on a three-dimensional mental rotation (3DMR) task exhibited the behavioral profile normally only attained after significant practice, supporting the suggestion that these musicians already possessed well developed neural circuits to support 3DMR. Furthermore, functional magnetic resonance imaging revealed that only orchestral musicians showed significantly increased activation in Broca's area, in addition to the well known visuospatial network, which was activated in both musicians and nonmusicians who were matched on age, sex, and verbal intelligence. We interpret these functional neuroimaging findings to reflect preferential recruitment of Broca's area, part of the neural substrate supporting sight reading and motor-sequence organization underpinning musical performance, to subserve 3DMR in musicians. Our data, therefore, provide convergent behavioral and neurofunctional evidence supporting the suggestion that development of the sight-reading skills of musical performance alters brain circuit organization which, in turn, confers a wider cognitive benefit, in particular, to nonmusical visuospatial cognition in professional orchestral musicians.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3799-3806
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 4 Apr 2007


  • Broca's area
  • Cognition
  • Human
  • Mental rotation
  • Musician
  • Visuospatial

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