As children age, the cortex - the outer layer of the brain - changes in thickness. In previous analysis of MRI data, Hudziak and his team discovered that cortical thickening or thinning in specific areas of the brain reflected the occurrence of anxiety and depression, attention problems, aggression and behaviour control issues even in healthy kids.
Hudziak wanted to see whether a positive activity, such as music training, would influence those indicators in the cortex. The study supports the finding that the entirety of a young person's environment - parents, teachers, friends, pets, extracurricular activities - contributes to his or her psychological health.
"Music is a critical component in my model," Hudziak said. Researchers found evidence that music playing altered the motor areas of the brain, because the activity requires control and coordination of movement.
Even more important to Hudziak were changes in the behaviour-regulating areas of the brain. For example, music practice influenced thickness in the part of the cortex that relates to "executive functioning, including working memory, attentional control, as well as organisation and planning for the future," researchers said.
A child's musical background also appears to correlate with cortical thickness in "brain areas that play a critical role in inhibitory control, as well as aspects of emotion processing," they said. The research was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.