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  • Los Angeles Philharmonic Association Shares New Findings From the Brain and Creativity Institute at University of Southern California
  • Nov. 15, 2017
  • New Findings From Study Examining Students in LA Phil's Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA) at Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA) Program Show That Music Training Can Change Brain Structure and Boost Decision-Making Capabilities

    Los Angeles, CA (November 15, 2017) - The Los Angeles Philharmonic Association shares the findings of two new studies from the Brain and Creativity Institute (BCI) at USC, showing that musical training can change children's brain structure and boost engagement in the brain networks responsible for decision-making. The findings highlight the importance of access to music and arts education and coincide with the LA Phil's recent announcement of the expansion of its Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA) program through the addition of a new site, YOLA at Camino Nuevo, and the opening of The Judith and Thomas L. Beckmen YOLA Center @ Inglewood in 2019. 

    The results are a part of an ongoing five-year longitudinal research collaboration launched in 2012 between the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, USC's Brain and Creativity Institute, and the Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA), investigating the emotional, social and cognitive effects of musical training on childhood brain development.

    YOLA is LA Phil Music & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel's signature initiative through which the LA Phil and community partners provide free instruments and intensive music training to nearly 1,000 students from underserved neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Researchers with USC's Brain and Creativity Institute - led by acclaimed neuroscientists Hanna Damasio and Antonio Damasio - are tracking how a group of children in the YOLA at HOLA program, located in the Rampart District of Los Angeles, respond to music from the very onset of their exposure to systematic, high-intensity music education. 

    In this study, the neuroscientists tracked and monitored changes in 20 children who have been learning to read music and play orchestral instruments through the YOLA at HOLA program beginning at age six. The students in this study receive approximately seven hours of music instruction per week. They were compared to a group of 19 children in a community sports program, as well as a control group of 21 children who were not involved in any specific after-school programs. 

    The new findings, published last week in the prestigious science journal Cerebral Cortex, show that children receiving music instruction demonstrated changes in the size of the brain regions that are engaged in processing sound. These regions, called "auditory association areas," are located just above the ears, and in the children who received music training were found to have an increased thickness in the right versus the left hemisphere of the brain, showing that music training impacts brain structure. The young musicians also showed a stronger connectivity in the corpus callosum, an area that allows communication between the two hemispheres of the brain.  

    More findings, published last month in the journal PLoS One, showed that when the young musicians were performing an intellectual task, they demonstrated greater engagement of a brain network that is involved in executive function and decision-making. Researchers used a classic experiment called the "color-word Stroop task," in which the children were presented with words whose meanings sometimes matched its color, and sometimes did not (for example, the word "blue" would sometimes appear in a blue font, but would also incongruously appear in a red font). To test their impulse control and decision-making abilities, the children were asked to ignore the written words and name just the color of the word. Children completed this task while undergoing an MRI scan, which tracked the differences in brain responses between children who were learning music and those who were not. The findings support the idea that music training results in a better biological foundation for everyday decision-making and impulse control.  

    Previous findings of this study, published in 2016, found that music training accelerates brain maturity in areas of the brain responsible for sound processing, language development, speech perception, and reading skills. 

    The findings continue to demonstrate that community music programs, such as YOLA at HOLA, can offset some of the negative consequences that low socio-economic status has on child development. 

    Children in this study are being followed for five consecutive years, providing a rare chance for researchers to discover the effects of musical training on emotional, social and cognitive aspects of development as they actually occur, rather than inferring later-life effects. 

    USC University Professors Antonio Damasio and Hanna Damasio, directors of the Brain and Creativity Institute and the Dana and David Dornsife Cognitive Neuroimaging Center at USC; Dr. Assal Habibi, an assistant research professor of psychology at the Brain and Creativity Institute and a musician herself; and Dr. Beatriz Ilari of the USC Thornton School of Music, are conducting the study. Along with graduate students and research assistants, they work directly with YOLA children and their families, and collect data for the assessments. Research results and summaries of findings are being reported to the scientific community and are being made available to the public. 

    Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA) is LA Phil Music & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel's signature initiative through which the LA Phil and community partners provide free instruments, intensive music training, and academic support to students from underserved neighborhoods, empowering them to become passionate learners and vital citizens. Beginning with 80 students in 2007, YOLA today serves nearly 1,000 students studying up to 15 hours per week at four community-based sites where mentorship and leadership training is integral. YOLA students have the opportunity to work with LA Phil musicians and world-renowned artists and conductors, travel to cities foreign and domestic, and perform in iconic venues such as Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl. YOLA is made possible in South Los Angeles, the Rampart District, Westlake/MacArthur Park, and East Los Angeles through the following community partners that share fiscal and programmatic responsibilities with the LA Phil: EXPO Center, Harmony Project, Heart of Los Angeles, Camino Nuevo Charter Academy and the Los Angeles County Office of Education 

    The Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, under the vibrant leadership of Music & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel, presents an inspiring array of music from all genres - orchestral, chamber and Baroque music, organ and celebrity recitals, new music, jazz, world music and pop - at two of L.A.'s iconic venues, Walt Disney Concert Hall ( and the Hollywood Bowl ( The LA Phil's season at Walt Disney Concert Hall extends from September through May, and throughout the summer at the Hollywood Bowl. With the preeminent Los Angeles Philharmonic at the foundation of its offerings, the LA Phil aims to enrich and transform lives through music, with a robust mix of artistic, education and community programs.

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