Do musicians have different brains?

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The search for anatomical correlates of special skills dates from the end of the 19th century, when post-mortem brains of gifted individuals, including musicians, were examined for clues as to origins of their prized abilities. Modern neuroimaging techniques provide the chance to interrogate the brains of living musicians. Structural and functional specialisations have been demonstrated across several sensory, motor and higher order association areas. These specialisations are often instrument- or effector-specific and correlate with aspects of the training history supporting the view that they are the result, rather than the cause, of skill acquisition. Musicians constitute a model, par excellence, for studying the role of experience in sculpting brain processes. A key challenge for the future will be to develop theoretical frameworks within which musicians and other occupationally specialised groups can be studied in order to investigate the nature, scope and limits of neuroplasticity.

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