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Spatial-temporal Versus Language-analytic

Spatial-temporal versus language-analytic reasoning: the role of music training.
Musical training improves a child's ability in spatial-temporal reasoning, which is important in mathematics and science education.
Arts Education Policy Review
July-August 1998
Document Size: 
Medium (3 to 7 pages)
Document ID: 
Music--Study and teaching; Reasoning--Technique; Visualization (Mental images)--Psychological aspects
Citation Information: 
(v99 n6) Start Page: p11(4) ISSN: 1063-2913
Grandin, Temple
Peterson, Matthew
Shaw, Gordon L.
Document Type: 


Spatial-temporal versus language-analytic reasoning: the role of music training.

We are all aware of the crucial impact of music on our mood and general well-being. Less intuitive are the recent experiments demonstrating that music can enhance reasoning.(1) Leng and Shaw predicted,(2) based on the trion model of the brain, that specific music could enhance how we think, reason, and create.(3) Behavioral experiments then established those links--in particular, the "Mozart effect," in which listening to the Mozart Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major (K.448), versus various controls, produced a subsequent short-term enhancement of spatial-temporal (ST) reasoning.(4) Of more interest educationally is the study showing that preschool children who received piano keyboard lessons for six months improved their performance dramatically on an ST reasoning task, with the effect lasting for days, whereas appropriate control groups (including a computer control group) did not improve significantly.(5) Those concepts and results are summarized in the sections that follow.
In this article we suggest that certain math and science concepts known to be difficult to teach can be learned using ST reasoning methods, especially at an early age. We further suggest that music instruction can enhance the "hardware" in the brain for ST reasoning.
Spatial-Temporal Reasoning
We distinguish two types of reasoning: ST and language-analytic (LA). Both types of reasoning are crucial to how we think, reason, and create; in general, we go back and forth between the two. LA reasoning would, for example, be more involved when we solve. equations and obtain a quantitative result. As noted, ST would be involved, for example, in chess when we have to think ahead several moves. Some key reasoning features used in spatial-temporal reasoning are
1. the transforming and relating of mental images in space and time,
2. symmetries of the inherent cortical firing patterns used to compare physical and mental images, and
3. natural temporal sequences of those inherent cortical patterns.
We have suggested that spatial-temporal reasoning is crucial in math,(6) and in particular, in learning proportional reasoning, which has been shown to be difficult to teach U.S. school children using traditional language-analytic methods.(7)
An Example of Excellence in Thinking in Pictures
To dramatically illustrate the importance of ST reasoning, we present some aspects of the first author's almost entire reliance on ST reasoning. A very high-functioning person with autism, she (Grandin) describes her exceptional abilities to think in pictures (ST reasoning) as an interactive, "virtual reality."(8) She is a top structural designer and has revolutionized certain areas of structural design that have traditionally been problematic because of the difficulty of visualizing the underlying problems. For example, she is the world expert in the design of livestock handling facilities. Her designs are revolutionary in that her structures interact with the animals in such a natural way that livestock can be effortlessly directed in a calm and humane manner. In designing the handling facilities, she is able to visualize herself as the animal going through one of her systems and thus is able to anticipate and correct for problematic patterns that might develop. In her imagination, she walks around and through the structure and can fly over it in an imaginary helicopter. She moves herself around and through the structure instead of rotating the structure in her imagination.
Grandin is able to do practical proportional reasoning at a sophisticated level, relying entirely on ST thinking. We believe that it is her ST reasoning skills that allow her to solve global problems that confound many engineers and architects who rely mainly on LA reasoning. Designing mechanical systems is easy for her because she can test run the equipment in her head.
Trion Model of Higher Brain Function
For centuries people have pondered the similarities among such higher brain functions as music, mathematics, and chess.(9) There are many correlational(10) and anecdotal reports(11) of such relationships. In their model of higher brain function, Leng and Shaw proposed a causal link between music and spatial-temporal reasoning.(12) The model was developed from the trion model,(13) a highly structured mathematical realization of the Mountcastle organization principle,(14) with the column as the basic neuronal network in mammalian cortex. Here the column comprises subunit minicolumns, the idealized trions. A columnar network of trions has a large repertoire of inherent quasi-stable, periodic spatial-temporal firing patterns, which can be excited and used in memory and higher brain function. According to the model, newborns possess a structured cortex, which yields this inherent repertoire of spatial-temporal firing patterns at the columnar level, which can be excited and strengthened by small changes in connectivity via a Hebb learning rule.(15) Those inherent memory firing patterns evolve over time in a probabilistic manner, from one to another, in natural sequences related by specific symmetries, and form the common neural language of the cortex. The results were striking when evolutions of the trion model firing patterns were mapped onto various pitches and instruments producing recognizable styles of music.(16) That gave the insight to relate the neuronal processes involved in music and abstract spatial-temporal reasoning.(17)
The key component of spatial-temporal reasoning may be the "built-in" ability of the columnar networks to recognize the symmetry relations(18) among cortical firing patterns in a sequential manner. We refer to this sequential process as "pattern development."(19) Pattern development mental processes may last from tens of seconds to minutes; in comparison, pattern recognition processes, such as face recognition, might be accomplished in some fraction of a second. Music clearly involves the pattern development concept, as does spatial-temporal reasoning: the ability to create, maintain, transform, and relate complex mental images even in the absence of external sensory input or feedback.(20)
Although cognitive abilities such as music and spatial -temporal reasoning depend on specific, localized regions of the cortex, all higher cognitive abilities draw upon a wide range of cortical areas.(21) Recent studies have demonstrated that sophisticated cognitive abilities are present in children as young as five months.(22) Similarly, musical abilities are evident in infants and neonates.(23) Music then may serve as a "pre-language"(24) (with centers distinct from language(25) centers in the cortex), available at an early age, which can access inherent cortical spatial-temporal firing patterns and enhance the cortex's ability to accomplish pattern development.
Mozart Effect
The ideas of Leng and Shaw led to the behavioral experiments to test the prediction that music training at an early age, when the child's cortex is very plastic, would enhance the ability to use pattern development in spatial-temporal reasoning. Rauscher and Shaw reasoned that if the experiments with preschool children would produce long-term enhancements from music training, perhaps listening to specific music would give a short-term enhancement of spatial-temporal reasoning. The striking Mozart effect experiments showed that college students scored significantly higher on spatial-temporal reasoning after listening to the first ten minutes of the Mozart Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major (K.448), but not after listening to silence, a relaxation tape, minimalist music, dance music, or a short story.
We chose music of the genius Mozart(26) because we expected that Mozart (composing by the age of four) was exploiting the inherent repertoire of spatial-temporal firing patterns in the cortex in the ultimate manner.(27) The particular sonata was carefully selected for its incredible use of the features of symmetries and perhaps natural sequences of patterns. These dramatic experiments were the first to demonstrate a causal link for music enhancing spatial-temporal reasoning.(28)
Several other behavioral experiments exploiting variations of the Mozart effect are now in various stages of progress.(29) We have emphasized some of the key theoretical and experimental components of the Mozart effect to guide researchers in designing experiments to confirm and elaborate the effect.(30) Recent coherence analyses of surface brain wave (EEG) recordings taken from subjects listening to the Mozart sonata (as compared with those listening to a short story) and then performing the spatial-temporal task show enhanced synchrony of neural firing activity of the right frontal and left temporo-parietal cortical areas.(31) Persistence of the EEG coherence patterns after listening to the Mozart sonata was observed for over twelve minutes.(32) Future EEG experiments might help predict which among different types of music would also produce the Mozart effect.
We expect that similar cortical mechanisms are involved in the preschool study, so further understanding of the Mozart effect should shed considerable light on those preschool results, and vise versa.
Music Training Enhances Reasoning in Preschool Children
Predictions(33) from our structured neuronal model of the brain(34) led to the test of the hypothesis that music training for young children enhances spatial-temporal reasoning. Seventy-eight preschool children participated in the recently published study: The children in the keyboard group were given private keyboard music lessons for six months, and there were three control groups of children, including a group receiving computer lessons.(35) Four standard, age-calibrated spatial reasoning tests were given at the beginning and end of the study; one test assessed spatial-temporal reasoning, and three tests assessed spatial-recognition reasoning. A highly significant improvement of large magnitude, was found for the keyboard group in the spatial-temporal reasoning test. (An object assembly test was used, in which the child arranges pieces of a puzzle to create, for example, a familiar animal by forming a mental image of the animal and rotating pieces to match the mental image; performance is improved if the pieces are put together in particular orders, thus making the task spatial-temporal in nature.) No significant improvement was found on tests of spatial-recognition reasoning (such as matching, classifying, and recognizing similarities among objects). The control groups did not improve significantly on any of the tests. We suggest that ST reasoning is crucial for adult endeavors such as higher mathematics, engineering, and chess. The experiment did not determine the duration of the enhancement of spatial-temporal reasoning, but it was at least some days. Thus these results have enormous educational implications.
Teaching Math and Science Using Spatial-Temporal Reasoning
A study of five hundred thousand students in forty-five countries has shown that the United States is below average in mathematics.(36) U.S. eighth-grade students are below average in geometry and proportional reasoning, which will harm their understanding of specific science concepts. The current educational system concentrates on developing LA reasoning skills and neglects the complementary ST form of reasoning. We propose that new methods be developed to teach math and science using ST reasoning. We already know from new studies that young children can,successfully be taught aspects,,of proportional reasoning using ST methods.(37)
Role of Music Education In Learning Math and Science
We strongly suggest that music education be present in our schools, preferably starting in preschool, to develop "hardware" for ST reasoning in the child's brain. The absolutely crucial (but now neglected) role of ST reasoning in learning difficult math and science concepts must be explored and exploited.
(1.) F. H. Rauscher, G. L. Shaw, and K. N. Ky, "Music and Spatial Task Performance," Nature 365, no. 611 (1993); F. H. Rauscher, G. L. Shaw, and K. N. Ky, "Listening to Mozart Enhances Spatial-Temporal Reasoning: Towards a Neurophysiological Basis," Neuroscience Letters 185, no. 44 (1995); and F. H. Rauscher, G. L. Shaw, L. J. Levine, E. L. Wright, W. R. Dennis, and R. L. Newcomb, "Music Training Causes Long-Term Enhancement of Preschool Children's Reasoning," Neurological Research 19, no. 2 (1997).
(2.) X. Leng and G. L. Shaw, "Toward a Neural Theory of Higher Brain Function Using Music as a Window, Concepts Neurosci. 2, no. 229 (1991).
(3.) G. L. Shaw, D. J. Silverman, and J. C. Pearson, "Model of Cortical Organization Embodying a Basis for a Theory of Information Processing and Memory Recall," Proc. Natl. Acad. Science, USA 82, no, 2364 (1985); K. V. Shenoy, J. Kaufman, J. V. McGrann, and G. L. Shaw. "Learning by Selection in the Trion Model of Cortical Organization," Cerebral Cortex 3, no. 239 (1993); and J. V. McGrann, G. L. Shaw, K. V. Shenoy, X. Leng, and R. B. Mathews, "Computation by Symmetry Operations in a Structured Model of the Brain," Physical Review E49, no. 5830 (1994).
(4.) See Rauscher, Shaw, and Ky, "Music and Spatial"; and Rauscher, Shaw, and Ky, "Listening."
(5.) See Rauscher et al., "Music Training."
(6.) W. S. Boettcher, S. S. Hahn, and G. L. Shaw, "Mathematics and Music: A Search for Insight into Higher Brain Function," Leonardo Music J. 4, no. 53 (1994).
(7.) R. Karplus, S. Pulos, and K. Stage, "Early Adolescents' Proportional Reasoning on `Rate' Problems," Educational Studies in Math 14, no. 219 (1983).
(8.) T. Grandin, Thinking in Pictures (New York: Doubleday, 1995).
(9.) G. J. Allman, Greek Geometry from Thales to Euclid (New York: Amo, 1976).
(10.) See Boettcher, Hahn, and Shaw, "Mathematics and Music"; and M. Hassler, N. Birbaumer, and A. Feil, "Musical Talent and Visual-Spatial Abilities: A Longitudinal Study," Psychology of Music 13, no. 99 (1985).
(11.) See T. Grandin, Thinking, and L. D. Cranberg and M. L. Albert, "The Chess Mind," in The Exceptional Brain, ed. L.K. Obler and D. Fein (New York: Guilford, 1988).
(12.) See Rauscher, Shaw, and Ky, "Listening."
(13.) See note 3 above.
(14.) V. B. Mountcastle, "An Organizing Principle for Cerebral Function: The Unit Module and the Distributed System," in The Mindful Brain, ed. G. M. Edelman and V. B. Mountcastle (Cambridge: MIT, 1978).
(15.) W. A. Little and G. L. Shaw, "A Statistical of Short and Long-Term Memory", Behav. Biol. 14, no. 115 (1975); W. A. Little and G. L. Shaw, "Analytic Study of the Storage Capacity of a Neural Network," Math. Biosc. 39, no. 281 (1978); and D. O. Hebb, Organization of Behavior (New York: Wiley, 1949).
(16.) See Leng and Shaw, "Toward a Neural Theory"; X. Leng, G. L. Shaw, and E. L. Wright, "Coding of Musical Structure and the Trion Model of Cortex," Music Perception 8, no. 49 (1990); and X. Leng, "Investigation of Higher Brain Functions in Music Composition Using Models of the Cortex Based on Physical System Analogies" (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Irvine, 1990).
(17.) See Leng and Shaw, "Toward a Neural Theory."
(18.) See McGrann et al., "Computation by Symmetry Operations."
(19.) See Leng and Shaw, "Toward a Neural Theory."
(20.) Leng and Shaw, "Toward a Neural Theory"; L. Brothers, G. L. Shaw, and E. L. Wright, "Durations of Extended Mental Rehearsals Are Remarkably Reproducible in Higher Level Human Performance," Neurological Research 15, no. 413 (1993); and W. G. Chase and H. A. Simon, "The Mind's Eye in Chess," in Visual Information Processing, ed. W. G. Chase (New York: Academic Press, 1973).
(21.) H. Petsche, P. Richter, A. von Stein, S. Edinger, and O. Filz, "EEG Coherence and Musical Thinking," Music Perception 11, no. 117 (1993); and J. Sarnthein, A. von Stein, P. Rappelsberger, H. Petsche, F. R. Rauscher, and G. L. Shaw, "Persistent Patterns of Brain Activity: An EEG Coherence Study of the Positive Effect of Music on Spatial-Temporal Reasoning," Neurological Research 19, no. 107 (1997).
(22.) K. Wynn, "Addition and Subtraction by Human Infants," Nature 358, no. 749 (1992); and E. S. Spelke, "Principles of Object Perception," Cognitive Science 14, no. 29 (1990).
(23.) A. J. DeCasper and A. A. Carstens, "Contingencies of Stimulation: Effects on Learning and Emotion in Neonates," Infant Behavior and Development 4, no. 19 (1981); and C. L. Krumhansl and P. W. Jusczyk, "Infants' Perception of Phrase Structure in Music, Psychological Science 1, no. 70 (1990).
(24.) See Leng and Shaw, "Toward a Neural Theory."
(25.) I. Peretz, R. Kolinsky, M. Tramo, R. Labrecque, C. Hublet, G. Demeurisse, and S. Belleville, "Functional Dissociations Following Bilateral Lesions of Auditory Cortex, Brain 117: 1283 (1994).
(26.) See Rauscher and Shaw, "Music and Spatial"; and Rauscher, Shaw, and Ky, "Listening."
(27.) See Leng and Shaw, "Toward a Neural Theory"; and Grandin, Thinking.
(28.) See note 26 above.
(29.) J. K. Johnson, C. W. Cotman, C. S. Tasaki, and, G. L. Shaw, "Enhancement of Spatial-Temporal. Reasoning after a Mozart Listening Condition in Alzheimer's Disease: A Case Study," submitted for publication; and J. E. Koch and F. R. Rauscher, "Development of Central Auditory and Spatial Processing Sites: The Effects, of Exposure to Music," Soc. for Neuroscience Abstract 93.17, 27th Annual Meeting, New Orleans, October 1997.
(30.) F. R. Rauscher and G. L. Shaw, "Key Components of the Mozart Effect," submitted for publication.
(31.) Sarnthein et al., "Persistent Patterns of Brain Activity."
(32.) Ibid.
(33.) See Leng and Shaw, "Toward Neural Theory."
(34.) See note 3 above.
(35.) See Rauscher et al., "Music Training."
(36.) Los Angeles Times, 21 November 1996, A1.
(37.) M. Peterson, A. Graziano, and G. L. Shaw, "Teaching Proportional Math Using Spatial-Temporal Reasoning," manuscript in preparation.
Temple Grandin is on the faculty in animal sciences at Colorado State University, Fort Collins. She is a world expert in the design of livestock handing facilities and has written extensively on her personal experiences with autism. Matthew Peterson is a vision scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of the MIND (Music Intelligence Neural Development) Institute in Irvine. He is the architect and developer of software using spatial-temporal reasoning to teach math and science. Gordon L. Shaw is a professor emeritus of physics at the University of California, Irvine, and a member of the MIND Institute in Irvine. He directs studies using music as a window into higher brain function.
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