A very readable summary of some very interesting new research:
If there were a surefire way to improve your brain, would you try it? Judging by the abundance of products, programs and pills that claim to offer “cognitive enhancement,” many people are lining up for just such quick brain fixes. Recent research offers a possibility with much 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 in turn can improve cognition more generally.
Michael Posner and Brenda Patoine, authors of the study, are finding clear causal links between arts training and increased cognitive ability!
Jonah Lehrer (my absolute favorite science journalist, and one of my favorite writers about anything, really) comments and elaborates on the importance of arts education:
That's why the research cited above is so important: it helps us appreciate the "soft" skills that we tend to neglect.But I think that even this clinical evaluation of arts education misses an important benefit: self-expression. I shudder to think that second graders, at least in most schools, are never taught the value of putting their mind on the page. They are drilled in spelling, phonetics and arithmetic (the NCLB school day must be so tedious), and yet nobody ever shows them how to take their thoughts and feelings and translate them into a paragraph or a painting. We assume that creativity will take care of itself, that the imagination doesn't need to be nurtured. But that's false. Creativity, like every cognitive skill, takes practice; expressing oneself well is never easy.