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The Mozart effect can refer to:

  • A disputed set of research results that indicate that listening to certain kinds of complex music may induce a short-lived (fifteen minute) improvement on the performance of certain kinds of mental tasks known as "spatio-temporal reasoning;"
  • Popularized versions of the theory, which suggest that "listening to Mozart makes you smarter", or that early childhood exposure to classical music has a beneficial effect on mental development;
  • A trademark of Don Campbell, Inc. for a set of commercial recordings and related materials, which are claimed to harness the effect for a variety of purposes. Campbell defines the mark as "an inclusive term signifying the transformational powers of music in health, education, and well-being. It represents the general use of music to reduce stress, depression, or anxiety; induce relaxation or sleep; activate the body; and improve memory or awareness. Innovative and experimental uses of music and sound can improve listening disorders, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, autism, and other mental and physical disorders and injuries."

Don Campbell's 1997 book, trademark, and subsequent promotion[edit | edit source]

The "Mozart effect" is best known to the general public through the work of Don Campbell. His 1997 book, "The Mozart Effect: Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind, and Unlock the Creative Spirit," popularized the theory that listening to Mozart (especially the piano concerti) will temporarily increase your IQ and produce many other beneficial effects on mental function. Campbell and others went on to recommend playing specially selected classical music to infants, in the expectation that it will benefit their mental development. These theories are controversial, though there is a considerable body of evidence showing the relationship of sound and music (both played and listened to) to cognitive function and various physiological metrics.

Before publishing his book, Campbell trademarked the phrase "The Mozart Effect," and later wrote a followup book called "The Mozart Effect For Children", and created related products. Among these are collections of music that are claimed to produce a "Mozart effect," and to focus it for particular activities such as "deep rest and rejuvenation," "intelligence and learning," and "creativity and imagination."

No researchers have claimed such wideranging effects, and even the existence of the far more limited effect claimed by e.g. Shaw and Rauscher (see below) is disputed.

History[edit | edit source]

The concept of the "Mozart effect" was described by French researcher Dr. Alfred Tomatis in his book "Pourquoi Mozart?" 1991, which explored the broad applicability of Mozart in particular in achieving results in Tomatis' thirty years of work with primarily learning disabled children. The phrase first came to US media attention in a 1993 paper by Frances H. Rauscher, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, and Gordon Shaw, a physicist at the University of California at Irvine, in a series of papers. The first paper, published in 1993 reported that brief exposure to a Mozart piano sonata produces a temporary increase in spatial reasoning scores, amounting to the equivalent of 8–9 IQ points on the Stanford–Binet IQ scale.

The fact that IQ was mentioned at all, and the fact that the music used in the study was by Mozart, the epitome of high-art music in the educated European tradition, had an obvious appeal to those who value this music, and the "Mozart effect" was widely reported.

New York Times music columnist Alex Ross wrote in 1994, in a light-hearted article, "researchers [Rauscher and Shaw] have determined that listening to Mozart actually makes you smarter," and presented this as the final piece of evidence that Mozart has dethroned Beethoven as "the world's greatest composer."

A 1997 Boston Globe article mentioned some of the Rauscher and Shaw results. It described one study in which three- and four-year-olds who were given six months of private piano lessons scored 34 percent higher on tests of spatio-temporal reasoning than control groups given computer lessons, singing lessons, and no training.

The popular impact of the theory was demonstrated on January 131998, when Zell Miller, governor of Georgia, announced that his proposed state budget would include $105,000 a year to provide every child born in Georgia with a tape or CD of classical music. Miller stated "No one questions that listening to music at a very early age affects the spatial-temporal reasoning that underlies math and engineering and even chess."

Miller played legislators some of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" on a tape recorder and asked "Now, don't you feel smarter already?" Miller asked Yoel Levi, music director of the Atlanta Symphony, to compile a collection of classical pieces that should be included. State representative Homer M. DeLoach said "I asked about the possibility of including some Charlie Daniels or something like that, but they said they thought the classical music has a greater positive impact. Having never studied those impacts too much, I guess I'll just have to take their word for that."

The existence of the "Mozart effect" was challenged by two teams of researchers in 1999: Christopher F. Chabris, and Kenneth M. Steele et al. in a pair of papers published together under the title "Prelude or Requiem for the 'Mozart Effect'?"

Chabris stated that his meta-analysis demonstrated "that any cognitive enhancement is small and does not reflect any change in IQ or reasoning ability in general, but instead derives entirely from performance on one specific type of cognitive task and has a simple neuropsychological explanation," called "enjoyment arousal." For example, he cites a study that found that "listening either to Mozart or to a passage from a Stephen King story enhanced subjects’ performance in paper folding and cutting [one of the tests frequently employed by Rauscher and Shaw] but only for those who enjoyed what they heard."

Steele et al. found that "listening to Mozart produced a 3-point increase relative to silence in one experiment and a 4-point decrease in the other experiment."

Limitations of the effect[edit | edit source]

The size, nature, and very existence of the "Mozart effect" are disputed. But assuming that measurable effect of complex music on cognitive function actually can be demonstrated, two limitations or misconceptions should be noted.

First, popular presentations of the "Mozart effect" almost always tie it to "intelligence;" thus, as noted above, Alex Ross's comment that "listening to Mozart actually makes you smarter," and Zell Miller's asking the Georgia legislature whether they "felt smarter" after he played them some Beethoven.

Rauscher herself, one of the original researchers, has disclaimed this idea. In her 1999 reply to Chabris and Steele et al. she wrote (emphasis supplied):

Our results on the effects of listening to Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major K. 448 on spatial–temporal task performance have generated much interest but several misconceptions, many of which are reflected in attempts to replicate the research. The comments by Chabris and Steele et al. echo the most common of these: that listening to Mozart enhances intelligence. We made no such claim. The effect is limited to spatial–temporal tasks involving mental imagery and temporal ordering.

Second, it is frequently suggested or stated that exposure to the right kind of music in childhood has a lasting, beneficial effect. (Circa 1999 the state of Florida created a regulation requiring toddlers in state-run schools to listen to classical music every day).

On programs like these, Rauscher commented in 1999:

I don't think it can hurt. I'm all for exposing children to wonderful cultural experiences. But I do think the money could be better spent on music education programs.

References[edit | edit source]

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