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Bilingualism and musical proficiency has been correlated with increased cognitive abilities.

I already know a second language, and dabbled in piano during childhood but never got past reading musical notes (I just memorized songs key by key and played them).

My question is, would investing say, an hour everyday towards these efforts be worth the cognitive gains? Or would I be better offer spending the hour concentrating on matters that are actually relevant to my field of interest? I theorize the cognitive gains - increased processing speed, increased verbal memory - would then create a "better engine" for working on daily tasks, thus increasing overall productivity in a way that is proportional to the cognitive benefits.

Of course, there lies the problem of uncertainty - would I cognitively benefit at all, given that I already have exposure to a second language/instrument?

I would enjoy learning a new language (say German) or relearning piano, but I don't see how it could be at all applicable for a student intended to take on a software engineering job after graduation.

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Perhaps this interesting question is more suited for Skeptics SE? Personally, I believe it's not really that learning to play an instrument will make you smarter in certain intelligence types, but that being smarter in certain intelligence types makes you more inclined to play an instrument. – Juha Untinen Dec 4 '13 at 11:58
Maybe. Afterall, there haven't been any studies which monitor the changes in cognition after learning a new language/instrument. I suppose it's best that I simply concentrate on what's relevant at hand instead of something out of the blue just for theoretical, unproven brain benefits. – George Newton Dec 4 '13 at 22:32
up vote 4 down vote accepted

As Juha Untinen notes, correlation does not imply causation. I suspect people with higher cognitive abilities find it easier to learn an instrument or an additional language, so causality may be the other way around... or there may be yet other factors influencing both.

That said, I am sure that there must be lots of studies that made a group of people learn a language or an instrument and afterwards compared their performance on intelligence tests to a waiting control group. From what little I know of intelligence studies, I suspect there to be little to no generalization effect.

Then again, you mention that you would enjoy learning a language or picking up your piano again. So if you would enjoy it, just go ahead and do it! As far as I know, there is very little you can do to improve your general cognitive abilities, anyway, apart from getting enough sleep, eating well and doing some aerobic exercise. (Of course, you can improve specific cognitive skills by training, say by preparing for specific tests such as matrix tests - but I wouldn't say that was worth the effort, since it won't generalize to other cognitive domains.)

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1) I'm right handed but I've hold my mouse with the left for a few years as an exercise, I read in a few studies that could boost the intelligence due to the fact that it engages the two hemispheres, it is supposed to bring more balance in decisions and engage creativity. Even if this may be not true, I gained much more control of my left arm which is not bad, I also feel more clever but this may be just an increase in work experience.

2) There are also some quite recent discoveries about Neuroplasticity

refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses which are due to changes in behavior, environment and neural processes, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury

findings revealing that many aspects of the brain remain plastic even into adulthood

In my opinion, if you're looking into new a language or piano just for the sake of an intelligence boost, you should consider changing your goal, I seriously doubt the effort would be commensurate to the gains. My understanding is that neuroplasticity is activated by "intensive" and "diverse" activities, so I would suggest to find something in your field that fulfills these criteria.

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