Music Lessons and Kids' IQ

Music lessons trigger increases in the IQs of 6-year-old children, according to one of the most thorough studies on the subject.

Although previous research had hinted that musical training was associated with better literacy, math and spatial skills, much of it had compared children getting music lessons only with those getting none, leaving open the questions of whether children getting the lessons had certain family advantages to begin with, and of whether the improvements were the result of music specifically or just the result of structured, extracurricular training in an artistic skill.

A new study by E. Glenn Schallenberg at the University of Toronto addressed these questions by recruiting 144 6-year-olds into four groups: those receiving voice lessons, keyboard lessons, drama lessons and no lessons. (Kids in the last group were given free keyboard lessons after the study was completed.)

Children receiving the voice and keyboard lessons showed small but clear improvements on IQ tests, gaining an average of six and seven IQ points, respectively. Children receiving drama lessons had an increase of five points, while the children getting no lessons had an improvement of four points.

In a paper published in the current issue of Psychological Science, Schallenberg concludes that musical training in particular was responsible for the extra IQ points.

However, Schallenberg's study also revealed a unique advantage gained by the drama group: The young actors showed improvements in social skills that were not evident in the other groups.

-- Shankar Vedantam

Drugs Found in Fish Samples

Antidepressants, birth control drugs and other medications are surfacing in fish tissue and are in some cases causing neurological, biochemical and physiological changes, according to Baylor University researchers.

Bryan Brooks, assistant professor of environmental studies at Baylor University's Center for Reservoir and Aquatic Systems Research, said his findings mark the first time researchers have documented drugs building up in organisms that reside in streams that receive large amounts of wastewater from municipal sources.

Brooks focused on effluent-dominated streams and rivers in Texas, where he and his researchers performed forensic tests on fish and invertebrates. In Waco alone, he said in a statement, about 12 million gallons of treated water a day are pumped into the Brazos River, which pours into the Gulf of Mexico.

"When male fish are exposed to critical levels of estrogen, they can be feminized and their secondary sexual characteristics become suppressed," he said. "We're also seeing antidepressants building up in fish tissue at high enough levels that may trigger behavioral changes" in the fish.

But he cautioned that more study is needed to determine whether the fish are suffering adverse consequences.

A buildup of antidepressants can modulate neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine in fish, Brooks said.

No Environmental Protection Agency regulations govern the level of pharmaceuticals in discharged water.

-- Juliet Eilperin

Joys of Revenge Documented

Revenge may be a dish best eaten cold, but it is an extremely satisfying one nonetheless.

That is one conclusion of a study, published last week in the journal Science, that measured the activation of the brain's "reward pathways" as people planned the punishment of those who had done them wrong.

Dominique de Quervain of the University of Zurich subjected research volunteers to scenarios of betrayal and revenge, and then studied their responses with positron emission tomography (PET) scans of the brain.

In the study, two people with equal amounts of money interact anonymously. They are told they can increase their income if they trust each other.

Person A is then given the chance to give a certain amount of his money to Person B. If he does, the researcher quadruples the money B receives. B then is given the choice to either keep all the money or split the take with A.

When B keeps the money -- a betrayal of trust -- the subjects in the A role are given different options in different runs of the game. One option is to fine B up to a maximal amount of money. Another is to fine B, but with a requirement that the amount of the fine be deducted from A's holdings -- a scenario in which the betrayed person has to pay for the revenge he gets. A third option is to deliver a symbolic censure, with no fine.

De Quervain and her Swiss colleagues found that people showed the greatest satisfaction -- as measured by the activation of a brain structure called the caudate nucleus -- when they levied a maximal fine at no cost to themselves. There was lower -- but still substantial -- satisfaction when they had to "pay" for the revenge. There was virtually none with the symbolic censure.

Interestingly, the people who showed the most caudate activation when levying the maximal fine in the "free revenge" scenario were the ones willing to spend the most when "paid revenge" was the only option.

This suggests that some people take unusually great pleasure in paybacks.

-- David Brown