Posted by: Ticktock | April 6, 2008

The Mozart Myth

Starting a blog like this is bound to get me into trouble down the road.  Today I’m in the awkward position of having to challenge the claims of my father.  Inevitably, this will happen more and more with other topics that friends and family believe.  My goal is not to assert my superiority over people or to mock their beliefs, but to merely seek the truth as it relates to parenting topics.

On the topic of The Mozart Effect, I was as equally ignorant as anyone.  My Dad mentioned that research had shown that children become more intelligent when regularly exposed to Mozart.  This seemed to me like a self-propogated urban legend that had infiltrated the education system or mainstream media.  I suggested that the idea was probably not science-based and that any results could be attributed to other factors.

It turns out that there haven’t even been any studies at all on the effect of Mozart on children.  And yet, this myth remains due to the media hype over research done in 1992 at the University of California in Irvine by Dr. Gordon Shaw and Frances Rauscher.  The research, published in the Journal Nature, was done on 36 college students and showed a rise in IQ scores for spatial reasoning.

Althought Rauscher denies it, the study has failed replication numerous times.  In addition, the initial study was flawed and later exploited by politicians and commercialized by the media and the original researchers

When you examine the original study closely, you see the flaws rise to the top.  The boost in intelligence seemed to disappear after fifteen minutes, so any gain in IQ was not retained for any reasonable duration.  The only benefit in IQ was in one task- paper folding and cutting.  That’s right- listening to mozart helps your origami skills.  As I mentioned before, this study was not performed on children but 36 psychology undergraduates.  The sample size is extremely low and limited in diversity.  There were also not sufficient controls to prevent other factors from effecting the results.  Subsequent meta-analyses of several studies on The Mozart Effect have shown that there is no benefit (or detriment) to intelligence by listening to Mozart.

The reason this myth has continued is because the education system has abused the science of it in states with low test scores.  Even Georgia governer Zell Miller earmarked funds so that mozart could be given to every newborn baby in the state of Georgia, and in Florida, a bill passed that all state-funded places of education play Mozart daily for their students.

Mozart was a great composer.  I don’t doubt that families that listen to Mozart have brillilant kids.  I also don’t doubt that Mozart will add culture and enrichment to a child’s life.  However, I do doubt that Mozart has any direct effect on intelligence.  Parents are better off having their children learn an instrument, which has been shown to increase intelligence.  But not the tuba- that will make you dumber.  🙂

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Responses

  1. Forgot to add that anyone interested in reading on the topic might want to check out “The Myth of the First Three Years” by John Bruer.
    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN=0684851849/roberttoddcarrolA/

  2. my 8 year old has been reared on a steady diet of thin lizzy and he’s pretty smart!

  3. This is a way to introduce many parents to a different kind of music. Maybe it’ll also be good for the kids. And what a better way to hear music. I don’t disagree with your statement, but I guess if parent are able to enjoy Mozart (or other classical composers), there is a chance that their kids will enjoy classical music too (Mozart included), and that can help them to be more focused.

  4. Yeah, I bought into the whole Mozart Effect without checking into it at first. I can’t remember what made me start researching it, but I did find a lack of evidence to prove the Mozart Effect.

    Nevertheless, I still encourage my son to watch Little Einsteins for the cultural value of learning about art and classical music. Plus, Mozart’s pretty soothing to listen to.


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