Is the Mozart effect real?

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Have you ever heard of the Mozart Effect?  My knowledge of the supposed effect was that it makes people smarter.  Maybe you've heard of expecting mothers playing Mozart's music to the fetus in hopes of producing a more intelligent child?  Yep, that's the same effect going on here.  The idea is totally fascinating to me, and I wanted to learn more!  Here is what I found:

According to a 2001 article in the Journal of Royal Society of Medicine, the Mozart effect is real, but not in the same way as I had posed above.  The effect was demonstrated through experiments and found "an enhancement of spatial-temporal reasoning performance after listening to Mozart's music for 10 minutes has been reported by several, but not all, researchers" ("The Mozart Effect").  Some researchers were unable to replicate results (although another source, "The Mozart Effect: A Closer Look" thinks this is because a different type of test was used to measure intelligence), but many were able to reproduce the results, so this effect remains a controversy in the industry, according to this source.  The spatial-temporal reasoning described here included tasks such as folding papers and making patterns.  Unlike what I had originally thought, this article says that the effect only lasts a few minutes.  What interested me most from this first article was the possible explanation provided.  The focus here was on the overlap of where spatial-reasoning and music processing take place in the brain.  As it turns out, music triggers many parts of the brain to be active, and many of the same places are triggered in spatial-reasoning tasks ("prefrontal, temporal and precuneus regions" ("The Mozart Effect")).  Said another way, "Rauscher and Shaw hypothesized that listening to certain types of complex music may "warm-up" neural transmitters inside the cerebral cortex and thereby improve spatial performance" ("Human Intelligence").


 Photo courtesy of this source

Indiana University's (home of the Mozart effect) website provided two alternative conclusions as to why IQ scores would vary 8-9 points for study participants.  Besides just activating certain common brain areas, music taste may play a role in performance.  For a participant who likes and/or appreciates Mozart's works, his/her scores may increase.  Someone who doesn't like/appreciate this kind of music may have a decreased score.  The same principle goes for arousal level - if the music intrigues you, then your score may increase.


IU's website also discussed how other music selections and books on tape were tested, but only classical pieces by Mozart and Yanni showed any change in IQ score ("Human Intelligence").  However, "The Mozart Effect: A Closer Look" argues quite the opposite, by saying that the participants' choice in selection (classical music, any music genre, or book on tape) all increased scores and it is not restricted to Mozart.


Just recently (2010), NPR published an article basically bashing journalists and consumers for not being smart about science, especially in relationship to the Mozart Effect.  The story was an interview with the scientist who first studied the Mozart Effect and published a single short paper in Nature about it.  From there, the Associated Press published the story and the whole idea exploded and was severely blown out of proportion.  The big takeaways from the NPR interview are, "Rauscher still stands by her original finding, but says subsequent research has shown that it's not really about Mozart. Any music that you find engaging will do the same thing, because compared to something like sitting in silence, the brain finds it stimulating.  "The key to it is that you have to enjoy the music," Rauscher says. "If you hate Mozart you're not going to find a Mozart Effect. If you love Pearl Jam, you're going to find a Pearl Jam effect." 

So yes, in a way, the Mozart effect is real - but only if you like his music, and the effects only last a few minutes. 

(Check out this NPR interview for more info:)

1 Comment

This was a great topic! I've always heard about how classical music makes you preform better in school if you are listening to it and I always wondered why just classical. It's nice to know that I would get the same effect from hardcore music. I think that being smart is often associated with classical music, because apparently the smartest of people listen to classical, but that doesn't mean that listening to classical makes you smart. In a study, people measured the SAT scores of people and then asked what there favorite bands were and made a huge chart. They found that people who listened to Beethoven got the highest scores, and people who listened to Lil Wayne got the lowest scores you can see the chart here:

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