Imagine you read a press release stating:
A new study demonstrates the benefits of music education to adolescent health and wellbeing.
As a musician, I’m always glad to read such a headline. But…as a scientist, I always feel to be very cautious that your own confirmation bias doesn’t make you less critical. So, what about this study by Beatriz Ilari and Eun Cho? There are a lot of elements that should worry you as a reader. Check this paragraph from the press release:
The researchers administered anonymous, online surveys to 120 students from 52 Los Angeles Unified School District middle schools. The survey questions covered the key domains of positive youth development including competence and confidence.
And this paragraph from the abstract:
Study participants completed an anonymous, online survey that contained five self-report measures including the very-brief form of the PYD questionnaire, a scale of school connectedness, and a scale of HFE.
So we have a relatively small sample, self-report, and correlation. And even more critical, when you check the sample in the study:
Over 97% of our sample (n = 117) played one or more musical instruments.
There probably has been considerable self-selection in which students participated in the survey.
So how I wish this headline to be correct, IMHO this study can’t tell you for sure if this is the case. But to be fair: the claims in the actual study are much less stating this, rather than a bit shouting press release.
Abstract of the study:
Introduction: Music is central in the lives of adolescents. While listening is usually the most common form of engagement, many adolescents also learn music formally by participating in school-based and extracurricular programs. This study examined positive youth development (PYD), school connectedness (SC), and hopeful future expectations (HFE) in middle school students (N = 120) with four levels of musical participation in school-based and extracurricular music programs. Levels of participation were based on students’ engagement in different music programs, including the Virtual Middle School Music Enrichment (VMSME), a tuition-free, extracurricular program that focuses on popular music education and virtual learning. We also investigated student listening preferences, musical tuition, and daily instrumental practicing.
Method: Study participants completed an anonymous, online survey that contained five self-report measures including the very-brief form of the PYD questionnaire, a scale of school connectedness, and a scale of HFE.
Results: Findings revealed significant differences in PYD scores by grade and gender, and associations between levels of musical participation and competence, a PYD component. Liking music and participation in extracurricular activities predicted scores on SC, and starting formal music education before age 8 predicted scores in HFE. We also found VMSME students to stem from neighborhoods with lower HDI than students in the other study groups, which points to issues of access to formal music education.
Discussion: Findings are discussed in light of earlier research on PYD, extracurricular activities in adolescence, the ubiquity and functions of music in adolescence, and deficit thinking in education.