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Mozart Effect


The Mozart Effect

by Kenneth Lyen

My aunt introduced Mozart to me at the age of three years when she started to teach me the piano. I had no idea that she may have been instrumental in increasing my spatial-temporal intelligence.

In 1993 Rauscher, Shaw and Ky reported in Nature their discovery of an improvement in spatial-temporal reasoning. They took 84 college students and had them listen to either a Mozart Sonata for two pianos in D major, a relaxation piece of music, or just sat in silence for 10 minutes. Mozart caused a transient improvement in their spatial-temporal intelligence, lasting only 10-15 minutes. The phenomenon was named the Mozart Effect.

This triggered an explosion in public interest. Not unnaturally, everything became sensationalized. Amadeus’ music shot into the pop charts, and pregnant mothers blasted Mozart into their unborn babies' ears.

Rauscher and her colleagues replicated their findings in another set of 79 college students in 1995, as did other investigators, including Rideout in 1996, Wilson and Brown in 1997, Nantais and Schellenberg in 1999, and Martin and Sword in 2004.

The last two investigators found that the improvement in spatial-temporal intelligence was not limited to Mozart. Nantais and Schellenberg discovered that Schubert or Yanni’s music, or even just reading a story, could have the same effect as listening to Mozart. Martin and Sword showed that Bach’s music could do the same. Hence they suggested that the Mozart Effect was a general effect resulting from listening to something enjoyable that enhanced one’s arousal.

In 2003, Ivanov and Geake showed that they could obtain the Mozart effect in primary school children. Playing either Mozart or Bach could both equally improve 10 to 12-year-old children’s spatial-temporal abilities.

Rauscher and Li Hong Hua (2004) demonstrated that rats exposed to Mozart could negotiate a maze better than one that listened to white noise instead. They went on to show that there was "increased expression of genes responsible for stimulating and changing brain cell connections. "Smart" genes encouraged by the music included c-AMP Response Element Binding Protein, a learning and memory compound; Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, a nerve cell growth factor; and Synapsin I, responsible for synapse formation. Levels of these compounds were increased in the hippocampus, a brain area linked to learning and memory."

In 1998, Johnson, Cotman, Tasaki, and Shaw studied the effects of Mozart and 1930s songs on a set of twins who were both suffering from Alzheimer's disease. They showed that Mozart led to better performance in social and spatial tasks.

John Hughes played Mozart to epileptics (2003) and found that the music quietened their electrical activity, even in a comatose patient.

In 1999, Muftuler, Nalcioglu, Bodmer and Shaw used functional magnetic resonance imaging to study brain activity in three subjects played music by Mozart and Beethoven. Both composers activated the temporal lobe of all 3 subjects, but only Mozart increased activity in their prefrontal cortex, and in one of them, there was also occipital cortex activity during the Mozart.

Thus, there seems to be a substantial body of evidence in support of the Mozart Effect. However, there is a small but influential group of skeptics who question the validity of this phenomenon. Christopher Chabris of Harvard University, Kenneth Steele of Appalachian State University, and John Bruer, president of the James S. McDonnell Foundation in St. Louis, have looked at the experimental evidence for the putative Mozart effect, and concluded that it is not a true effect. There are some well-designed studies showing the absence of this effect.

Unfortunately in 21st century science, it takes about 10 negative papers just to disprove one positive publication. Hence the views of these critics will probably be neglected for quite a while.

I think the problem arises from the fact that we are confusing two issues. The first is whether or not Mozart's Sonata for two pianos in D major can improve spatial-temporal reasoning. The second is whether or not music in general can have positive effects, such as helping one study better, or soothing one's nerves. While the first aspect is controversial, no one will deny that music can calm the savage breast, as well as help one mug for exams.

It seems to me that the Mozart Effect is less the raising of spatial-temporal intelligence, but more the effect of mass media in stampeding a herd mentality. Yes, the Mozart Effect is the making of a mountain of wild promises out of a tiny molehill of equivocal experimental data.

But there are some positive aspects out of all this. For one, it will be much harder for the authorities to scrap music programs in schools to cut costs. For another, more children can benefit from being taught to play Mozart.

You ask me what skill does high spatial-temporal intelligence confer? Well, ummm, ummm, origami, yes origami. Actually, I'm hopeless at origami. Sorry, Mozart, you've not been as useful as I hoped!

28 October 2004