Evidence for Enhanced Long-term Memory in Professional Musicians and Its Contribution to Novel Word Learning

  • Dittinger Eva
  • Korka Betina
  • Besson Mireille


■ Previous studies evidenced transfer effects from professional music training to novel word learning. However, it is unclear whether such an advantage is driven by cascading, bottom-up effects from better auditory perception to semantic processing or by topdown influences from cognitive functions on perception. Moreover, the long-term effects of novel word learning remain an open issue. To address these questions, we used a word learning design, with four different sets of novel words, and we neutralized the potential perceptive and associative learning advantages in musicians. Under such conditions, we did not observe any advantage in musicians on the day of learning (Day 1 [D1]), at neither a behavioral nor an electrophysiological level; this suggests that the previously reported advantages in musicians are likely to be related to bottom-up processes. Nevertheless, 1 month later (Day 30 [D30]) and for all types of novel words, the error increase from D1 to D30 was lower in musicians compared to nonmusicians. In addition, for the set of words that were perceptually difficult to discriminate, only musicians showed typical N400 effects over parietal sites on D30. These results demonstrate that music training improved long-term memory and that transfer effects from music training to word learning (i.e., semantic levels of speech processing) benefit from reinforced (long-term) memory functions. Finally, these findings highlight the positive impact of music training on the acquisition of foreign languages. ■