The relationship between early musical training and executive functions: Validation of effects of the sensitive period

Jiejia Chen, Meike Scheller, Chuanyu Wu, Biyu Hu, Rong Peng, Cuihong Liu, Siyong Liu, Liwen Zhu, Jie Chen* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Interest in the influence of musical training on executive functions (EFs) has been growing in recent years. However, the relationship between musical training and EFs remains unclear. By dividing EFs into inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility, this study systematically examined its association with musical training in children, and further verified whether there was a sensitive period for the influence of music training on EFs. In Experiment 1, musically trained and untrained children were asked to complete the Go/No-go, Stroop, Continuous Performance, and Switching tasks. Results showed that musically trained children had an advantage in attention inhibition, response inhibition, and working memory, but not in cognitive flexibility. Moreover, the level of musical training was positively correlated with response inhibition and working memory abilities. In Experiment 2, results showed that early-trained musicians performed better on measures of attention inhibition, response inhibition, and working memory than did the age-matched control group, but late-trained musicians only performed better in attention inhibition. Thus, our findings suggest that music training is associated with enhanced EF abilities and provide the first evidence that early childhood is a sensitive period when musical training has a more powerful effect on the development of EFs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)86-99
Number of pages19
JournalPsychology of Music
Issue number1
Early online date7 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This research was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC31771240), Hunan Provincial Fund for Philosophy and Social Sciences (15YBA263), Foundation of Education Department of Hunan Province of China (18A036), and Hunan Provincial Innovation Foundation for Postgraduate (CX2018B274).

Data Availability Statement

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


  • cognitive flexibility
  • early musical training
  • executive functions
  • inhibitory control
  • sensitive period
  • working memory


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