Selling Mozart To Babies

Updated: Apr 30

In the U.S, that’s what they actually did.

We’ve all heard of the Mozart effect, right? If you haven’t, here’s a very simple summary: if you listen to Mozart’s music, you become really smart! More specifically, if you raise a child listening to Mozart’s music then they’ll be really smart in the future.

A study was conducted in 1993 at the University of California, where 36 students were to take a spacial IQ test [1]. They were split into two groups; with group one listening to Mozart’s sonata in D major for two pianos [2], for fifteen minutes, while the other sat in a quiet room for the same duration of time.

According to the media, the results showed that those who had listened to the Mozart piece had performed better overall in their IQ test than those who hadn’t. The media used this to basically create a new market in the U.S, where every newborn in the state of Georgia was given a free classical music CD. It became a relatively common practice in the U.S that Mozart’s music would be played to babies to make them more intelligent.

As often happens, the media didn’t really publish the truth – they sort of published the half-truth.

In reality, the effects of the music only lasted an average of about 10 minutes. With that, it was simply just spacial intelligence that had benefited, which would include things like pencil and paper maze tasks, or jigsaws. The researcher, Rauscher et al, “has stressed that the Mozart effect is limited to spatial temporal reasoning and that there is no enhancement of general intelligence; some of the negative results, she thinks, may have been due to inappropriate test procedures”. Jakob Pietschnig also a part of the study, stated "Those who listened to music, Mozart or something else – Bach, Pearl Jam – had better results than the silent group."

What else did the media not mention? Well the studies were reproduced by a group from Vienna’s University's Faculty of Psychology, and found no positive results for the phenomenon. To see any sort of long-lasting beneficial effect of this phenomenon on a child, the child would have to have taken up and played an instrument for about six months. This supposedly saw an increase of 30% in spacial intelligence. But again, that’s all that it was limited to.

Despite the effort of many, there’s no quick fix for intelligence. Intelligence can’t be characterized as one thing either. There are many different forms of intelligence - one person might be superior in linguistic intelligence and another in mathematical/logical intelligence. In fact, there are ‘nine domains of intelligence’: naturalistic, linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, existential, interpersonal, body-kinesthetic, intra-personal, and finally, spatial [3].

The different domains of Intelligence are generally influenced by five factors, “knowledge, quantitative reasoning, visual-spatial processing, working memory, and fluid reasoning” [4]. How can a baby have an increase in general intelligence if it is born with no knowledge? As well as this, the intellectual capacity of an individual is, to a certain degree, down to genetics. It is largely known to be characterized by your environment (by this I mean the size and structure of the brain, it’s neural pathways and so on) which can also be affected by your diet and its nutritional value.

This is everything that the media hadn’t published. They published just enough information to make everyone believe. But the bigger picture shows that the study can’t be trusted for various reasons; including it’s failure to be successfully replicated, as well as the few numbers of volunteers that took part. On top of this, the studies at the time weren’t tested with other music, Mozart’s music was the only variable. The control was just silence – which is a very weak control if you’re arguing that it’s specifically Mozart’s music that makes you smarter.

However, there is something quite interesting with other studies in relation to Mozart’s music. According to the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Mozart’s music was used to see if it could in any way help people who have epilepsy. Twenty three out of Twenty Nine people who suffer from epilepsy saw a decrease in the amount of average cases a day, when they listened to Mozart’s music on a regular basis.

One particular case saw a huge difference; “In one male, unconscious with status epilepticus, ictal patterns were present 62% of the time, whereas during exposure to Mozart's music this value fell to 21%” [5]. And in this situation, studies have come to show that a prior appreciation of the music is not necessary.

This time, the music is rather specific to Mozart, and several others in his field of music, like J.S Bach and Joseph Haydn. When these individuals with epilepsy were played the minimalist music of Philip Glass, there was no effect.

Another case showed great results; a girl was played Mozart’s music for 10 minutes every hour, while she was awake. “At the end of the waking period the number of clinical seizures had fallen from 9 during the initial four hours to one during the last four hours.” Amazingly, the following day, she had just two attacks in seven and a half hours [6]. These are the topics that should have been published in the news.

What am I getting at? Well, Mozart’s music actually has an important impact on some peoples' lives. If we stop trying to create cheat-sheets and shortcuts for intelligence which simply don't exist, music can be a very powerful tool. This isn’t the Matrix, you can’t just download information onto your brain as if it were a hard drive (not yet anyway), and you certainly don’t become a genius just by listening to the works of Mozart. Becoming a ‘genius’ or ‘intelligent’ in any particular field, requires hours and hours of hard work, which you simply can’t escape.

Part of the reason I wrote this article is to send a little message: online platforms are absolutely flooded with this ‘one trick for life’ idea. It simply isn’t true. They just don’t work. To achieve anything long lasting and beneficial it takes an element of luck, along with sheer hard work and persistence. The Mozart Effect is an early version of the many money-making scams going around today. There is no quick fix to learning an instrument, studying, driving, reading, gardening and so on. Stop wasting your money, and more importantly – stop wasting your time.

Jack, at Interconnected.







[6]: (further down in the paper)


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