If there’s a surefire thanks to improving your brain, would you be trying it? Judging by the abundance of products, programs, and pills that claim to supply “cognitive enhancement,” many folks are lining up for just such quick brain fixes. Recent research offers a transparent stage with far better, science-based support: that focused training in any of the arts—such as music, dance, or theater—strengthens the brain’s attention system, which successively can improve cognition more generally. Furthermore, this strengthening likely helps explain the implications of arts training on the brain and cognitive performance that are reported in several scientific studies.
We know that the brain features a system of neural pathways dedicated to attention. Which we are fairly sure that focusing our attention on learning and performing art—if we practice frequently and are truly engaged—activates these same attention networks. We therefore would expect focused training within the humanities to bolster cognition generally.
The linchpin during this equation is that the attention system. Attention plays a very important role in learning and memory, and its importance in cognitive performance is undisputed. If you truly want to hunt out out something, pay attention! We all know this intuitively, and lots of the strong scientific data back it up.
The idea that training within the humanities improves cognition generally really isn’t so bold within the context of what we call activity-dependent plasticity, a basic tenet of brain function. It implies that the brain changes in response to what you’re doing. Put in our own way, behavior shapes and sculpts brain networks: What you’re doing in your day-to-day life is reflected within the wiring patterns of your brain so the efficiency of your brain’s networks. Perhaps nowhere is that this could be more evident than in your attention networks.
For most folks, if we discover art that “works” for us—that incites our passion and engages us wholeheartedly—and we persist with it, we should notice improvements in other cognitive areas during which attention is incredibly important, like learning and memory, likewise as improving cognition normally.