The Mozart Effect
Society has often hoped for a quick and simple way of increasing intelligence. In 1993, such a possibility was offered by researchers at the University of California, Irvine. Rauscher, Shaw, and Ky (1993) found that a group of 36 college undergraduates improved their spatial-temporal intelligence (the ability to mentally manipulate objects in three-dimensional space) after listening to 10 minutes of a Mozart sonata. Results showed that student' IQ scores improved by 8-9 points and lasted for 10-15 minutes. The findings, which were later dubbed the Mozart effect, have spawned both criticism and support for music's ability to alter intelligence.
The original Mozart effect researchers based their rationale on the trion model of the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is a part of the brain that helps with, among other things, motor control, speech, memory, and auditory reception. The trion model, developed by Shaw, showed that similar neural firings patterns occur when listening to music and performing spatial tasks (Leng & Shaw, 1991). Rauscher and Shaw hypothesized that listening to certain types of complex music may "warm-up" neural transmitters inside the cerebral cortex and thereby improve spatial performance.
Other researchers have been wary of the findings presented by Rauscher and colleagues. Instead, Mozart effect critics have claimed the spatial intelligence increase to be nothing more than a shift in participants' arousal, which then produces better spatial test scores (Steele, 2000; Thompson, Schellenberg, & Husain, 2001). In essence, their argument is that listening to Mozart's music causes either an increase or decrease in someone's arousal and mood to a level that is more optimal for testing. Personal preference for the music heard in Mozart effect testing may also be a possible influence on increasing spatial test scores (Nantais & Schellenberg, 1999).
The first Mozart effect publication showed participants' spatial intelligence scores improved by 8-9 points, by far the largest increase reported in the literature. A meta-analysis of Mozart effect research showed an increase of 1.4 general IQ points between participants listening to Mozart or silence (Chabris, 1999). However, this IQ score included studies that did not strictly measure for spatial intelligence. When analyzing studies that only used spatial intelligence, results showed an increase of 2.1 general IQ points (Chabris, 1999). The IQ scores created by the meta-analysis may not be particularly promising since they are less than the normal standard deviation (15 points) found in the Fourth Edition of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test, which includes the prominent spatial subtest used in Mozart effect research. Additionally, the meta-analysis IQ scores were not specifically calculated for spatial ability, but instead present an overall intelligence increase, which is beyond the scope intended by the original Mozart effect authors.
The majority of Mozart effect research has been conducted on college undergraduates. Although some media outlets have claimed Mozart's music improves a baby's intelligence, as yet, no test involving the possible influence of this music on infants' spatial intelligence has been conducted. The youngest group of participants that have been tested had a mean age of 11.95 years (McKelvie & Low, 2002). Currently, no testing has been done on older adults, adolescents, or other developmental levels.
The music used in the first Mozart effect experiment was Mozart's Sonata for two pianos in D-major, K.448. This has continued to be the primary song used in Mozart effect research. Other styles of also been attempted such as Yanni, which was believed to have similar musical properties as Mozart, minimalist music by Philip Glass, the dance group Aqua, and pieces by Albinoni and Schubert. Some non-musical selections have also been compared to Mozart music, such as a George Carlin comedy performance and a Stephen King story read aloud. Of these different selections, the music of Yanni and Mozart have been the only styles to increase spatial scores. To date, no published research on the Mozart effect has used any other non-classical musical pieces.
Many of the current Mozart effect studies contain faulty research procedures. The use of an independent control group has not been used in several studies (Hughes, 2001; Rauscher, Shaw and Ky, 1993; Rideout & Taylor, 1997; Rideout, Dougherty, & Werner, 1998; Steele, Bass, & Crook, 1999; and Steele, Brown, and Stoecker, 1999), and thereby does not allow a comparison of scores between listening to Mozart and merely attempting the spatial problems. Besides Steele, Ball, and Runk (1997), the Stanford-Binet spatial subtest (paper folding and cutting questions) has been the only spatial measure used within Mozart effect research. Using only one test limits the understanding of the Mozart effect to the criteria seen in the lone spatial measure. Additionally, no study has provided demographic descriptors of their participants (e.g., race, gender, socioeconomic status), which may influence intelligence test scores. These are a few of the problems that severely hinder the legitimacy of any results garnered from Mozart effect research.
Chabris, C. F. (1999). Prelude or requiem for the 'Mozart effect'?. Nature, 400, 826-827.
Hughes, J. R. (2001). The Mozart effect. Epilepsy & Behavior, 2, 396-417.
Leng, X. & Shaw, G. L. (1991). Toward a neural theory of higher brain function using music as a window. Concepts in Neuroscience, 2 (2), 229-258.
McKelvie, P. & Low, J. (2002). Listening to Mozart does not improve children's spatial ability: Final curtains for the Mozart effect. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 20, 241-258.
Nantais, K. M., & Schellenberg, E. G. (1999). The Mozart effect: An artifact of preference. Psychological Science, 10 (4), 370-373.
Rauscher, F. H., Shaw, G. L, & Ky, K. N. (1993). Music and spatial task performance. Nature, 365, 611.
Rideout, B. E. & Taylor, J. (1997). Enhanced spatial performance following 10 minutes exposure to music: A replication. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 85, 112-114.
Rideout, B. E., Dougherty, S., & Wernert, L. (1998). Effect of music on spatial performance: A test of generality. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 86, 512-514.
Sack, K. (1998, January 15). Georgia's governor seeks musical start for babies. The New York Times, A-12.
Steele, K. M., Ball, T. N., & Runk, R. (1997). Listening to Mozart does not enhance backwards digit span performance. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 84, 1179-1184.
Steele, K. M., Bass, K. E., & Crook, M. D. (1999). The mystery of the Mozart effect: Failure to replicate. Psychological Science, 10 (4), 366-369.
Steele, K. M., Brown, J. D., & Stoecker, J. A. (1999). Failure to confirm the Rauscher and Shaw description of recovery of the Mozart effect. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 88, 843-848.
Steele, K. M. (2000). Arousal and mood factors in the "Mozart effect". Perceptual and Motor Skills, 91, 188-190.
Thompson, W. F., Schellenberg, E. G., & Husain, G. (2001). Arousal, mood, and the Mozart effect. Psychological Science, 12 (3), 248-251.
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Last Modified: 29 April 2018