Popping The Bubble On The Mozart Effect

By Janice Antoniette Förster | Last Updated March 29, 2012

You believed it for years – or at least the media made you believe it was true. You doubted your genes and turned to Mozart for your child’s brain power. You weren’t alone. It was everywhere. Some government programs even distributed CDs for pregnant women. But why Mozart? Why not Britney Spears, Michael Jackson or .. perhaps Yanni? What was this based on? Is this real or just a hype? Here is how I bust the myth.

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 1.

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.”

pregnant woman on a sofa

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.” 2 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. 3

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

  1. Eliot, J. (1980).  Classification of Figural Spatial Tests. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 51, 847-851;
  2. Willingham, Daniel T. (2006). Brain-Based Learning: More Fiction that Fact. American Educator. Fall.
  3. 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



Reactions

  1. I wonder if any study on the effects of sound waves (musical) on a fetus at different stages of growth has ever been made..

    • While music can generate responses on the fetus such as changes in heart rate and some movements, no expert has yet interpreted what they mean. This is because they could not easily observe the baby and tell the difference for each stage as easily as when they are already born. The movements may be discomfort or enjoyment, for all we know. 😉

  2. well, during my first pregnancy, i bought baby mozart and baby bach cds to, yes, hopefully increase the intelligence of my baby, but in time, we turn on the music mainly to make the baby fall asleep. we also play the music rather than turn on the tv while the baby is playing to serve as a block from the noise around us (i.e. dogs barking, noisy vehicles, etc.). I don’t know if the music has helped in the development of my baby. I just turn it on for its pleasant and soothing tones.

    • Hi Jacqueline, apparently we all react to music, just like we react negatively to our neighbor’s loud music and feel elated when we hear songs that remind us of a happy memory. What a great idea you have there to block noises! Classical music is truly soothing.

  3. Very intresting and informative article. I will try this myself when I get pregnant. ( keep you posted lol ). Listening to any kind of music for sure has so many drastic effect on people. For now I listen to Cardio Zumba a lot.

  4. I’m expecting a baby in 6 months time and just like any parent, I would do everything to bring him/her up in the best possible manner. This article is enlightening. It shows there are no shortcuts in raising a smart kid, and that nothing beats proper nutrition and training in developing one’s potentials.

  5. Nice article! 🙂

  6. William Congreve once wrote “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” Without a doubt, music greatly influences the mood, the setting, the ambiance. There’s music for all the moods; when you’re depressed, there’s music by Paul Collier; when you feel like partying, there’s music by LMFAO; when you feel like jumping around whipping your hair, there’s music by Metallica; and when you feel like getting smarter, there’s music by Mozart. Not. But still, yes, there’s no harm at all in listening to a classical music master.

    • Whoaa.. seems like you know so much about music. Yes.. definitely. After a long stressful day, it helps sometimes so just sit down.. relax.. perhaps sip some coffee.. and listen to classical music.

  7. Great article Janice! As parents, we are all hoping the choices we make are the best for our kids. When you hear things like Classical music Little Einstein, Brainy Babies, and other non-obtrusive methods can possibly increase the IQ of your kids just by exposure, it is tempting to jump on the bandwagon.

    Since we are expecting another child in September, we are really aware of the effects that noises, diet and even intimacy have on baby Walker 3.0. It is a magical time. For the record. Joy and I have talked to all of our kids while they were in the womb and they react while in the womb. When they are born it seems like they know us from from “non-parental units”. Maybe it is just wishful thinking and my imagination

    To read your story debunking the myth which was invented by faculty at UCI made me wonder… What about the children’s milk supplements in the stores that claim they can raise the IQ of your kids? I figure it is more junk science.

    • If the can of milk indeed contains all the vitamins and minerals stated in the label, then definitely they can help in the brain development of the baby. But if you are referring to DHA, there are varying claims about that. Some say there is no “proven benefit” while others say they have the capability to give the intelligent “edge.” Between nutrients and music, i believe that the former is closer to reality.

  8. Well, I kinda think that it could be possible that listening to classical music, in this case to Mozart, can make a person become smarter. Or at least make a person feel more calm and relaxed to study. Coz there have been times I have listened to classical music while I was finishing homework and I think I did much better than I would have if I was listening to something else. But maybe it could mean something else. Like in such experiments, it is possible that the person tested could have just been having a bad day or something’s bothering them at the moment or the other way around that could’ve affect their performance. But I don’t know, I just personally think music is kind of more emotional and not logical. Meaning to say, it could affect or change your mood just temporarily. Though whether or not it makes me smarter or not I’m going to keep listening to it. Overall nice article, so informative, I surely learned so much from it 🙂

  9. I have a neighbor whose child grew up listening to Mozart’s music.. at the age of 2 he can already play drums with simple rhythm. But i think that it is not because of the Mozart effect but it is because of the training of the parents to the child that made the child learn how to play musical instruments at an early age. All types of music can stimulate our brain and help us think, it doesn’t have to be specifically Mozart’s music.

  10. I’m entertained by mothers that play Mozart songs for their fetus. It just shows so much love for their kid. Well, I also believe they are hoping their kids would grow up as the talented ones. Who wouldn’t? Since I’m not really a fan of Mozart, Im quite pleased that any type of music will do.

  11. When it comes to a child’s development, I think there are a lot of factors that contribute to it. But for me, the best thing a mother could do for her baby’s development is to give the baby proper nourishment. It would be impossible to develop a powerful brain if the body is not properly developed since the body influences brain function by for example supplying oxygen and nourishment to the brain. Since infancy is the most critical part of a developing person’s life, I can really say that they need the essential building blocks to grow. I also believe that in order for a child to grow into an intelligent person, He must learn the needed knowledge and undergo proper discipline. Like a precious diamond that underwent tons of pressure to become the precious diamond it is today. The Mozart Effect could also help the child in way that it could calm the mind to make it more focused to the different elements in the environment. The bottomline of it all is that, proper child rearing is the key to have the child that every parent wants to have.

  12. Organ formation or Organogenesis happens in the first trimester of the mother’s pregnancy. At 4 weeks, the embryo inside the mother’s womb starts developing his/her brain, eyes, ears, nose and the heart starts breathing. And at 8 weeks, the organs is complete, including the arms, legs, and the intestines. At 16 weeks, the Fetal Heart Tone (FHT) is audible by a fetoscope and at 5 months, the baby starts moving (quickening). In my opinion, listening to a Mozart music or any kind of music is helpful to the fetus because Music or any vibration is used by Doctors or Nurses to wake up the Baby. As the baby moves, his/her Heart Rate increases or the HR is good, which means it is Reactive (within Normal Limits), thus, it would increase the blood supply of the brain and also to the other parts of the fetus body. Increased blood supply means increased oxygen and nutrients that the fetus need for organ development. being smart is multi-factorial like the genes, the nutrition the baby is getting and etc. We really can’t point that Mozart music makes the baby smart, but I can say that it may contribute to the brain’s development of the fetus.

  13. As a musician perhaps I’m really thankful to my mother that she turned on the music which is mozart and some classical music every night when I was a kid. I heard that the mozart music is good for babies to be intelligent and for me it is true because as you see a sheet of music of mozart, there are a lot of musical notes on it and therefore mozart has very creative mind to have those musical notes into a great piece of music. But in reality it’s so difficult to be a diligent or genius unless your trying hard and learn to stand back when you fall.

  14. Is it already too late for me to listen to Mozart compositions and increase my IQ? I don’t think the person gets smarter by listening to music, calmer maybe.

  15. For me doing anything when you are young would improve your aptitude toward it. It is called learning. For me it has nothing to do with the fact that it is music..

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