Music and Dyslexia Research

Published on 26 November 2023 at 08:40

We have been researching music and dyslexia for several years. Our research focuses on the known cognitive and behavioural benefits of music, in relation to identification of dyslexia. 


Our director, Alicia Johnson, is currently co-authoring a paper on music and dyslexia. Here is an excerpt from her Masters dissertation, titled "Could music mask dyslexia?":


"I am interested in using current knowledge about auditory related cognition, brain plasticity and music training on behavioural manifestations of dyslexia. The benefits of music seem obvious to many of us. Music is a part of our daily life, whether we go into a coffee shop, gym class or study session, the right music makes us feel better. Studies have taken this a step further and found that music can improve the mind. For example, Kiss and Linnell (2021) show that listening to the right music can improve attention and focus, therefore enhancing performance. This phenomenon is widely known as the Mozart Effect. Similarly, Cabanac et al., (2013), found that students who feel less stressed perform better. Furthermore, music students gained higher grades than non-musicians across all subjects, suggesting a transfer effect of music into other areas. This is in line with research in neuroscience conducted by Schellenberg (2005; 2011) and Zatorre (2013) whose studies investigated music and cognitive abilities; music and intelligence; and predispositions to music in terms of ability respectively. Similarly, Norton et al., (2005) found no pre-existing neural, cognitive or motor differences between children beginning music lessons and controls. However, associations were found in terms of music training, and auditory and pattern recognition, which is tentatively explained by innate abilities. Causality aside, these papers among others (e.g., Corrigall and Trainor, 2011; Bergman Nutley, Darki and Klingberg, 2014; Bishop-Liebler et al., 2014; Flaugnacco et al., 2015; Obergfell et al., 2021; Choi, 2021) suggest that a more concentrated engagement with music might increase the benefits of music on academic performance due to shared neural capabilities developed through auditory training. To this point, Patel (2011) found that singing has an impact on speech encoding. Patel (2014) further showed that learning how to play an instrument had a similar impact on speech processing to singing. To explain how this relationship might work, Patel (2011; 2014) proposes the OPERA hypothesis whereby brain plasticity can occur when five conditions are met; Overlap, Precision, Emotion, Repetition and Attention. When the relationship between music and language is applied to dyslexia, it is plausible that cognitive and behavioural profiles of dyslexic musicians will not always align with expectations. This can be explained to some extent by Frith’s (1999, p.209) observation that specific favourable circumstances can impact on the demonstration of dyslexia."

(Johnson, 2022)

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