Contemporary neurscience research keeps finding examples of brain plasticity and growth. Today's example comes from the area of music lessons. Do early music lessons change the brain?
Here's how the New York Times covered this topic area. This news article reviews a range of recent research on brain changes in response to early music lessons. There's great stuff here for psychology students, including some personal stories about how the researchers (often musicians themselves) got interested in their topic.
One feature of this journalist's story is that it includes links to the original research, as published in empirical journal articles. This gives you a chance to compare directly the journal's content to the journalist's coverage. The opening sentence, for example, links to its source in the journal Nature Neuroscience:
When children learn to play a musical instrument, they strengthen a range of auditory skills.
You'll undoubtedly notice that the journalist is making a causal claim here. But you could ask, Do early music lessons really strengthen auditory skills? What if musically talented kids are simply more likely to seek music lessons?
Follow the hyperlink to the Nature Neuroscience piece, and you'll find an argument that should remind you of major themes in your research methods course. Here's one paragraph:
Notably, many of these studies used correlational data to infer that functional and
structural differences between the brains of musicians and non-musicians are a consequence of years of experience with music. However, causality cannot be derived from correlational analysis — the differences could reflect pre-existing genetic differences between the two groups. To address this issue, longitudinal studies have been conducted in which children were randomly assigned to music training and then periodically assessed over time. Compared with children who were assigned to art training, children who underwent music training showed enhanced brain responses to subtle pitch changes in musical stimuli. Fifteen
months of intense music training has also been shown to induce structural changes in
the primary auditory and primary motor areas. These structural changes were associated
with improved auditory and motor skills, respectively. Taken together, these data suggest that music training can cause functional and structural changes in the brain throughout our lifetimes, and that these changes may improve music processing (Kraus & Chandrasekaran, 2010).
Summarize the paragraph above in your own words, explaining why the studies given by these authors can actually support the journalist's original causal claim.