Each participant was given a letter of the alphabet and told to generate as many words as he or she could think of beginning with that letter, both before and after exercising. But they couldn't just add a different ending, like past tense, to generate a new word, and they weren't allowed to repeat any words, so they had to remember what they had already said. They were given one minute to come up with as many words as possible.
After exercising without music, there was no change. But with music, wham-o, more than double the performance, on average.
The research doesn't reveal whether the improvement lasts very long, or whether it diminishes quickly, but it seems reasonable that this bit of mental stimulation works for the brain like exercise works for the body. The more you do it, the more those muscles — including the ones between the ears — stay in tune and function more efficiently.
Lots of questions remain unanswered, of course, because this is a complex area of research, and it's pretty new, despite the fact humans have wondered about the effects of music for centuries.
"It's a provocative area of research," says Emery, who plans to do more in the future. But for now he's going to concentrate on his bike, and walking up stairs instead of taking an elevator, and remaining physically active.
And, of course, just listening to music.
Lee Dye’s column appears weekly on ABCNEWS.com. A former science writer for the Los Angeles Times, he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.