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Julia Mossbridge, Marcia Grabowecky, Satoru Suzuki; Music facilitates mental rotation performance in women. Journal of Vision 2013;13(9):1085. doi: 10.1167/13.9.1085.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Many people listen to music while performing tasks requiring working memory, but it is unclear whether simultaneous music affects working memory performance. To address this question, we used a classic visuospatial working memory task, Shepard's mental rotation. This task requires visuospatial mental manipulation to determine whether two simultaneously presented 3-D objects depicted from different viewpoints are the same object. Participants performed the mental rotation task in two conditions: 1) in silence and 2) while listening to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, a calming piece of music. Condition order was counterbalanced across participants (N=40; 20 female). In both conditions, we asked participants to press one key if they thought the objects were the same and another if they thought the objects were different. Speed and accuracy were both emphasized in the instructions. As has been shown previously in silence, women's responses were slower than men's (accuracy was equivalent). In music, women's responses became significantly faster while men’s responses became somewhat slower. A gender by condition interaction confirmed the effect (all rotation angles: F[1,38]=5.728, p<0.03; only angles 140 to 220 degrees: F[1,38]=13.242, p<0.001). There were no main effects or interactions involving accuracy. Thus, for women, mental rotation performance can be transiently improved with the simple manipulation of playing music. Is the effect due to the calming influence of Moonlight Sonata, or the arousal induced by music? When we used a highly arousing musical piece (Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries), preliminary follow-up results (N=32; 16 female) indicate that although both women and men responded faster in music, women’s performance improved in music while men's performance degraded, so that men’s advantage in silence (in accuracy in this case) disappeared in music. In summary, our results suggest that listening to music improves mental-rotation performance in women likely because women benefit from increased auditory arousal.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2013
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