Cognitive reserve, music, and sports

Erik Scherder (VU University, Amsterdam)

There is some interesting literature supporting the view that growing up in an enrichment environment contributes to a cognitive reserve. The higher the cognitive reserve, the more a person is able to withstand the consequences of aging and/or age-related neurodegenerative diseases. In an enriched environment, a person is constantly challenged, preferably both cognitively and physically, processing a variety of stimuli. Enriched environment at a young age, is particularly important for those brain areas that are still developing, e.g. the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is one of the areas that mature late, until 25 years of age. Interestingly, within this first 25 years of age, some brain regions are more sensitive for musical training than other brain regions. An example of such a brain area is the corpus callosum, an area with strong connections with the prefrontal cortex.
The point I would like to make here is that an optimal performance has its basis early in life and depends partly on the maturation of the prefrontal cortex. Not only playing an instrument but also listening to music may stimulate the prefrontal cortex. It will be highlighted that one of the functions of the prefrontal cortex is inhibition, also inhibition of stress. Controlling stress may further enhance musician’s performance. Another brain region that will be addressed is the Superior Temporal Sulcus (STS). The STS is known for processing multi-sensory stimuli and projects to the prefrontal cortex. In this area sports meets music. The cortex of the STS is thicker in athletes. From the point of view of enriched environment, the question arises whether musicians make an optimal use of for example the STS, by doing sport at a high level. I will address this issue in the final part of my talk.

Thursday, August 29, 14.00-14.45
Thematic Session 2: excellence

About Erik Scherder

Prof. dr. Erik Scherder is professor in Clinical Neuropsychology at the VU University in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and is head of the department of Clinical Neuropsychology at the same university. In addition, he is professor in Human Movement Sciences at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen. His group develops two lines of research: 1) the relationship between enriched environment among which physical activity and music, and cognition, mood, and sleep-wake rhythm in children with autism and older persons with neurodegenerative diseases; and 2) the influence of neurodegenerative diseases on pain experience.