Auditory and Visual Category Learning in Musicians and Nonmusicians

Casey L. Roark*, Kirsten E. Smayda, Bharath Chandrasekaran

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Across three experiments, we compare the ability of amateur musicians and nonmusicians in learning artificial auditory and visual categories that can be described as either rule-based (RB) or informationintegration (II) category structures. RB categories are optimally learned using a reflective reasoning process, whereas II categories are optimally learned by integrating information from two stimulus dimensions at a reflexive, predecisional processing stage. We found that musicians have selective advantages for learning auditory RB categories, specifically when they are instructed about the dimensions that define the categories. In Experiment 1, musicians enrolled in a music college demonstrated advantages over nonmusicians in learning auditory RB categories defined on frequency and duration dimensions but did not demonstrate differences in learning auditory II categories or either visual RB or II categories. In Experiment 2, a broader online sample of musicians who were not instructed about the dimensions did not demonstrate any advantage in auditory or visual learning. In Experiment 3, an online sample of musicians when given dimension instructions demonstrated early advantages over nonmusicians for auditory RB but not visual RB categories. Musicians do not demonstrate a global categorization advantage. Musicians’ category learning advantage is limited to their modality of expertise, is enhanced with dimension instructions, and is specific to categories that can be described with verbalizable rules.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)739-748
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2 2021


  • Audition
  • Category learning
  • Music experience
  • Vision

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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