The US study used functional magnetic resonance imaging, which measured changes in brain activity based on the blood flow to different areas of the brains of 20 non-musicians and 20 musical conductors.
When given listening tasks to perform, both groups showed a rise in the auditory part of the brain as expected, but at the same time, perhaps more surprisingly, activity also decreased in the visual part of the brain.
As the task was made progressively harder, the non-musicians diverted more and more activity away from the visual parts of the brain to the auditory ones.
A key question is how highly specialised the training and experience of drivers is.
Transafe network director Saul Jeavons said: “Although the study did not relate to driving, and far more work is needed to explore the relationship when there are significant visual inputs to cognitive loads at the same time as the auditory ones, the initial results are certainly interesting.
"It takes us some way further towards explaining more of the science of why mobile phone calls or listening to music are so distracting, particularly in complex visually demanding traffic situations. It further reinforces the need for all organisations to have robust policies in the use of all in car technology from phones to mobile data terminals.”