Popping The Bubble On The Mozart Effect

How easy can it get? All you have to do is play Mozart for your baby even while in the womb and his IQ score point will increase. It’s just about what you need to fulfil your dreams and have a son or daughter you always dreamed of – perhaps a doctor, a pilot or a president, who knows? It’s a quick and indeed a very simple and hassle-free way of increasing intelligence for the next generation. But the question is, is this even true?

Who is Mozart: A Backgrounder

Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was an Austrian composer who was born in Salzburg on the 27th of January, 1756. Having been born of a father who was composer, a music teacher and a publisher of a book in violin, Mozart’s education in music started at a very young age. He started recognizing chords at the early age of three, played short musical compositions on the harpsichord at four and started composing his own music when only five years old. It is during this time and age when he also had his very first concert with his sister in Munich, Germany.

In the years that followed, Mozart became more accomplished. He was a versatile composer who wrote in different musical genres, wrote an opera, symphony, chamber music and solo concerto. He also did divertimenti, oratorio, serenata, string quartets, string quintit and piano sonata. His unending experimentation and exploration with many musical genres made him an innovative classical composer.

He died on December 5, 1791 at the age of 35. He is now regarded as one of the most respected and most famous classical composers in music history. Many described his music as having balance, natural order, clarity and great focus on melody. He expressed emotions and psychology successfully through music and shows a rare degree of subtlety that is not common in any classical composer.

Where It All Started

The Mozart Effect is a term used by Alfred A. Tomatis for the effect Mozart’s music allegedly has on the brain development of children below 3 years old, which suggests that “listening to Mozart makes you smarter.” It started at the University of California, Irvine in 1993 when Frances Rauscher who was a concert cellist and cognitive development expert and Gordon Shaw, a physicist, studied how Mozart Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major could affect about thirty six college students for ten minutes.  They reported that using a Stanford-Binet IQ test, the spatial-temporal reasoning IQ point scores of these students increased by 8 to 9 points.

However, the boost was temporary and could only last for about ten to fifteen minutes. The team established the fact linking to Mozart and the findings was wrongly interpreted as “Mozart makes you smarter.”

Immediately, believers and supporters for Mozart’s ability to alter intelligence featured it in music-oriented, parenting and education publications. While it has renewed the general people’s interest in classical music as well as in childhood development, it was just the kind of scientific evidence music marketers have been waiting for to sell music lessons, instruments and support ads for music products.

It is interesting to note that several other researches have been conducted to support this claim and replicate the results found by Rauscher and Shaw, all of which were unsuccessful. This altogether renewed the public debate about the Mozart Effect Controversy. It has always spawned a lot of criticisms and some people are looking for more scientific evidence.

Other Researches

Others who hopped into the Mozart effect bandwagon claim that listening to it offered many numerous effects and could alleviate mental and physical health problems. For instance, they conducted some tests on patients with epilepsy and found a decrease in epileptic activity, however, it is not exclusive to Mozart as the songs of the Greek composer Yanni also achieved the same results. As such, shouldn’t there also be a Yanni effect?

There was also a paper-folding and maze solving experiments conducted by Eliot that showed significant positive performance after subjects have been exposed to Mozart.

The Reality

The truth is, whether it is Mozart or any other subtle music composer, the result is the same. It brings pleasure, it has the ability to ease pain and it can enhance attention. The Mozart Effect is simply a misinterpretation of the study which was designed to test the effect exposure to music could do to the performance of college students. For Shaw and Rauscher, what they have shown in their study is that there are patterns of neurons that fire in sequences, and that there appear to be pre-existing sites in the brain that respond to specific frequencies. But there is nothing in the study that is the same as saying “listening to Mozart increases intelligence in children.”

a beautiful pregnant woman holding the headset to her tummy so her the child from the womb can hear music

You might be surprised, but this effect was never tested on children, let alone babies and fetuses.

Any therapeutic result can come not only from Mozart’s music, but the same effect can be acquired when listening, dancing or simply humming to a piece of music one finds inspiring. Listening to classical music may be able to soothe your baby and help him appreciate classical music later in life, but it won’t make him or her smarter.

According to a psychology professor Kenneth Steele and head of the James McDonnell, John Bruer, they followed the protocols stated in the study of Shaw and Rauscher in a research participated by 125 students but they could not “find any kind of effect at all.” Many other researchers reported that when the effect is observed, it is because of a boost in mood and not because of any Mozart composition.

Conclusion

So, if you were hoping to cheat your genes or ignore the effect of nutrition and good education by relying on Mozart, you are in for a big disappointment. The team of Dr. Rauscher perform the study on college students, and not on children or babies, and only limited their examination on the behavior of the participants and not their brain.

The truth is, regardless of the kind of music, prenatal and early childhood musical exposure can lead to several long-term positive effects.

This is an example of how science and the media can sometimes confuse our understanding of how things work in this world. We see a line on a scientific journal, we misunderstood it and eventually it became a universal truth, surprisingly even supported by the same scientists whose work was also somehow exaggerated and distorted by the media in the past. Others join in for their financial benefit, and more claims, myths and distortions pile up. Parents want to improve the future of their children and want to defend it. Soon CDs and books go on sale and many government programs are created to distribute them. Soon thereafter, we have a “fact” believed by many.

There’s nothing negative at all about Mozart and his compositions and in fact, they have offered a lot to the world. As for increasing one’s IQ scores by listening to Mozart, this is not true at all. Nevertheless, whether you believe it or not, what harm is there in listening to a classical music master?

References:

Costa-Goimi, E. (1997). The McGill Piano Project: Effects of Piano Instruction on Chidren’s Cognitive Abilities. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the Third Triennial ESCOM Conference, Uppsala, Sweden

Eliot, J. (1980).  Classification of Figural Spatial Tests. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 51, 847-851;

Willingham, Daniel T. (2006). Brain-Based Learning: More Fiction that Fact. American Educator. Fall.