Angela Barker, PhD
Independent Researcher, Duluth, GA
Brown, E. D., & Sax, K. L. (2013). Arts enrichment and preschool emotions for low-income children at risk. Early Childhood Research Quarterly,28, 337– 346. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2012.08.002
Drawing on the principles of the differential emotions theory, Brown and Sax examined the emotional benefits of an arts-infused preschool curriculum on the learning readiness of low-income, at-risk children. The differential emotions theory proposes “that forming appropriate links between emotions, cognitions, and actions in preschool could have long-term implications for children’s lives (Izard et al., 2002)” (p.344).
Children participating in the study were enrolled in one of two Head Start programs: Settlement Music School’s Kaleidoscope Preschool Arts Enrichment Program–a school that integrated music, dance, and visual arts into early learning classes, and a comparison preschool that offered early learning classes only. Data collection involved four components: collection of demographic information, children’s reading ability assessment, assessment of each child’s emotion regulation (individually provided by the teachers), and in-class observations of the children’s emotions.
The researchers hypothesized and found that “observer ratings of interest, happiness, and pride for children attending the arts-integrated Head Start (Kaleidoscope)” demonstrated a “greater incidence of these positive emotions in in music, dance, and visual arts classes as compared to regular early learning classes” (p. 342). Brown and Sax clearly defined the limitations of their study and encouraged caution for generalizing their findings to a larger population. They stated, “At present, the data on Kaleidoscope imply simply that arts integration can be accomplished in such a way that it benefits emotional as well as overall school readiness” (p. 344). Nonetheless, Brown and Sax concluded:
Despite limitations, the present study contributes to understanding of arts enrichment and preschool emotions for low income children at risk for school problems. Efforts to close the achievement gap have highlighted the critical importance of children’s social–emotional readiness to learn…Emotion expression and regulation stand out as the facets of emotional competence that matter most for preschool outcomes. (344)
Schellenberg, E. G., Corrigall, K. A., Dys, S. P., & Malti, T. (2015). Group music training and children's prosocial skills. PLoS ONE,10(10): e0141449. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0141449
Using a natural experimental design, the researchers investigated the effect of group music instruction on the prosocial skills of third and fourth grade children involved in a specialized music education program compared to children of the same age and similar cultural and socio-economic backgrounds who were not involved in the music program. All participating children (N = 84) were given pre- and posttests for vocabulary, emotion comprehension, sympathy (concern for others), and general prosocial skills. Schellenberg et al. hypothesized that, 1) “the music lessons would be accompanied by improvements in sympathy and prosocial behaviors, but not in vocabulary,” 2) there would be group differences after the music lessons in some though not all areas, and 3) “group music making would be most beneficial for children who began the program with poor social skills” (¶9).
Based on the results of the study, the researchers concluded that the group music lessons contributed to an increase in children’s sympathy and prosocial behavior. While the positive effect was limited to children with poor prosocial skills prior to the music lessons, Schellenberg et al. contended “the results suggest that group music training facilitates the development of prosocial skills” (Abstract).
Reddish, P., Fischer, R., & Bulbulia, J. (2013). Let’s dance together: Synchrony, shared intentionality and cooperation. PLoS ONE, 8(8): e71182. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071182
Reddish et al. reported on three experiments they conducted to examine the role of shared intentionality (“the sharing of psychological states enabling collaborative behaviors” (¶3)) in promoting cooperation during group synchronous events such as shared music and dance events. The experiments involved 124 adults, ranging in age from 17 to 42 years. The researchers hypothesized the following:
 that synchrony created through shared intentionality (the shared goal condition) would produce highest level of cooperation (both behavioural and self-reported)… that the synchrony condition would show higher levels of cooperation compared to passive non-movement and incidentally induced asynchronous movements, but lower levels of cooperation than the shared goal condition… [that there would be] a linear increase of cooperation from the control and asynchrony conditions producing the lowest cooperation, to the synchrony condition, to the shared goal condition. (¶6)
Experiment 1 was designed to “clarify whether shared intentionality is an important factor in producing cooperative effects from group synchrony” (¶4). Experiment 2 involved “[measuring] cooperation after varying intentional synchrony with intentional asynchrony” with the intent of understanding the impact that synchrony had on cooperation. Finally, Experiment 3 “manipulated both shared intentionality and synchrony to examine how their interaction affected cooperation” (¶4).
The reported outcomes for the three experiments showed that “synchrony promotes cooperation more powerfully when it is framed as a collective goal"(¶62). Furthermore, “synchrony combined with shared intentionality leads to a greater cooperation than synchrony without shared intentionality or shared intentionality combined with asynchronous movement or vocalising” (¶62). In summary, the researchers stated,
Our study offers the first demonstration that synchrony interacts with explicitly shared goals to support cooperative interactions. Additionally, we present and empirically assess a plausible psychological model for the proximate cognitive processes that underpin heightened prosociality, when synchrony and collective goals combine. (¶62)
The importance of this study lies in its “observation that in group synchrony, such low-level action and perception systems combine with higher level intentional systems to evoke especially powerful cooperative responses” (¶63). The study further supports the need for continued study of the connections between implicit and explicit cognition.
Flaugnacco, E., Lopez, L., Terribili, C., Montico, M., Zoia, S., & Schön, D. (2015). Music training increases phonological awareness and reading skills in developmental dyslexia: A randomized control trial. PLoS ONE, 10(9): e0138715. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0138715
Dyslexia is a learning disability affecting phonological awareness, word segmentation, working memory, and reading abilities. Research has indicated that the phonological deficit associated with dyslexia may be linked to deficits in temporal processing, affecting both language and music. In this study, Flaugnacco et al. hypothesized that strengthening temporal processing skills and rhythm abilities through music training would improve phonological awareness and reading skills in children with dyslexia. The researchers maintained the importance of this study as being the first to “report the results of a randomized control trial testing the hypothesis that music training, by improving temporal processing at multiple temporal scales, improves phonological awareness and reading skills in dyslexic children” (¶5).
Forty-six children with dyslexia between the ages of 8 and 11 completed the study over a seven-month period. The children were randomly assigned to one of two groups: the music group (n = 24) participated in music classes, the control group (n = 22) took painting classes.
In reporting their results, the researchers stated that “only the music group showed a clear improvement in reading accuracy” (¶42). They explained the importance of their results in this way:
This result is important for two reasons. First, our sample consisted of 46 severe dyslexic children in absence of comorbid attention and/or language disorders—while indeed our sample was slightly smaller than what suggested on the basis of a pilot test, the power on the final data on the primary outcome was >0.80. Second, by contrast to other studies using a control group without any active engagement , the control group received an active training with a recreational component comparable to that of the intervention group. While the motivational effect of a musical activity compared to a control group without any active engagement is certainly high, our results show that children in the two groups did not differ in their appreciation of the activity or in their self-esteem after training. Thus, the transfer effects described here seem to be due to precise neural and cognitive mechanisms that are specifically enhanced by music training. (¶42)
Flaugnacco et al. reported that rhythmic reproduction proved to be the best predictor of phonemic awareness. They also noted that
Another measure that was significantly affected by music training and that strongly correlated with phonological skills was a measure of temporal anisochrony, namely the ability to detect the temporal regularity of an auditory sequence. As described by the dynamic attending theory, rhythmic perception depends upon stimulus-neural coupling . (¶46)
The researchers’ findings strongly supported their hypothesis of “a beneficial effect of music training on reading skills and phonological awareness,” while also underscoring the importance “of rhythm on phonological perception and production” (¶49).