The Mozart Effect: Is it Real?

Psychiatry_Psychology.jpgOver the weekend, I traveled into the city to see the Mozart’s Don Giovanni, an opera based on the legend of Don Juan. I don’t get a chance to see much performance art, but since a friend with an extra ticket had invited me along for free, I decided that it would be a nice experience. Besides, if there were any truth at all to the Mozart Effect theory, what better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than raising my I.Q. score a few points?

The Mozart Effect is a popular notion that listening to classical music makes kids smarter. The theory inspired Georgia governor Zell Miller in 1998 to propose that $105,000 each year be set aside in the state budget to provide every native born Georgian child with classical music tape or CD. Of course the University of Wisconsin psychologist Frances H. Rauscher, and Gordon Shaw, a physicist at the University of California at Irvine, never claimed in their 1993 landmark paper that Mozart makes children smarter, rather they asserted that his music improved mental imagery and temporal ordering abilities. The subsequent increase in spatial reasoning scores on the Stanford-Binet IQ probably influenced the popular notion that the Mozart Effect is connected to intelligence. Since spatial ability includes spatial perception, spatial construction, spatial memory and spatial attention, one cannot measure it as a one-dimensional construct.

My mental rotation ability for instance, came in pretty handy on the day of the opera. I mentally rotated three-dimensional maps of the huge performance hall to find my seat, and performed multi-step manipulations of figural information at the snack bar during intermission. Still, after the opera I cannot claim that I felt any better prepared to become a geometry teacher, engineer, architect or city planner. I will say however that, uncharacteristically, I did not get lost on the way home.

So what do you think: Is the Mozart Effect real?

  • I recently posted a link to an article in Current Directions in Psychological Science re: the Mozart Effect. It can be viewed at:

    Kevin McGrew

  • Anonymous

    There does seem to be an effect at work.I know my daughter likes both Mozart and a CD called Music for Infants that has some very calming classical music. Most of the parents I know think in terms of “calming effect” rather than “Mozart effect”As far as making children smarter, that is a loaded question. Perhaps classical music creates the environment that fosters greater imprinting dexterity.

  • I doubt if listening to Mozart will make you smarter, but it’s not a big leap to assume that very specific kinds of brain functions could be enhanced by some kinds of music. Correlation between music and math has been noted in individuals who were prodigies in both.

  • The mozart effect is mostly crap – the original researchers haven’t been very successful in replicating their results. This has been a notorious time hole for beginning graduate students looking for an effect.

  • Anonymous

    Glanced at the book, bought it as it contained many references to Parkinsons Disease (my friend has had PD for many years). Harp music helps relieve the tremors caused by the meds he takes. It doesn’t work every time but when it does it is amazing!!!

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  • As I wrote a few months ago, in some ways the benefits of music on cognition are not as controversial as this discussion makes it seem. For example, six-year-old children who are given keyboard or voice lessons have shown a reliable 2 to 3 point increase in IQ scores compared to control groups who received other types of artistic lessons. Pre-schoolers with two years of music lessons scored better on spatial reasoning tests than those who took computer lessons for the same time. And as has been noted, as little as 10 minutes of exposure to Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major resulted in a temporary enhancement of spatial-temporal reasoning on the Stanford-Binet IQ test. Mozart has also been shown to allow some with Alzheimer’s disease to function more normally, to reduce the severity of epileptic seizures, and even to lessen the need for sedatives in surgery relative to no music or white noise

    Some hold that the effect of such music is only to elevate arousal and mood, which then results in improved performance and well-being in a variety of situations. But if true, the Mozart effect is one of the few examples of an extremely rare phenomenon known as ‘far transfer,’ in which experience with one domain (music) can transfer benefits to a completely distinct domain (spatial reasoning).

  • Brian

    I am a true believer in Zell Miller’s classical CD for babies. Both of my sons, now 12 and 10 listened to this cd over their first 18 months of life. They are both on the principles list in school and masters at math and science. My 12 year old has mastered 2 different instruments and can read music. Not bad for the sons of a high school graduate and a high school drop out. I now have a 2 week old little girl and will be purchasing a new copy as soon as I can get my hands on it. Thank you Gov/Sen. Zell Miller, I truly believe this cd has helped in ways I can’t explain.

Tony Brown, BA, EMT

Tony Brown, BA, EMT, graduated cum laude from Harvard University. He served as an EMT in the US Army stationed in Germany.

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