What is the Mozart Effect
I was at a social event not too long ago and one of the subjects that came up (right after a heated debate about whether or not a tomato was a vegetable or a fruit) was The Mozart Effect.
In short and before we dive any deeper, The Mozart Effect is the supposed increase in brainpower after listening to Mozart.
Even shorter.. Mozart makes you smarter.
This is a widespread story and this is also the reason for it popping up at some random social event. And I must add, that this was NOT the first time I heard people talk about it, not at all. But is there any truth to this urban myth?
In the spirit of science I have dug up some scientific articles, which discuss this topic and I will try to dissect some of the bullet-points from these. This, of course, isn’t the proper way of handling scientific material and it can never be conveyed perfectly in a blog post. But it will give it my best shot.
The Origin of The Mozart Effect
Alfred A. Tomatis – The Birth of the Term “The Mozart Effect”
The origin of the term The Mozart Effect is actually quite interesting. And the story starts on the 1. of January 1920, when a baby was born, which later would have great influence on the world of medicine. The of the baby was Alfred A. Tomatis.
Alfred was an otolaryngologist (say that 10 times!), which is a doctor, that specializes in the ear, nose and throat. Alfred was also an inventor and this showed in his medical work, and he developed theory or a method, which was called the Tomatis Method or Audio-Psycho-Phonology (APP).
I do not want to bore you with a detailed explaination of a scientists lifes-work, but to sum the Tomatis Method into one sentence, it is the following:
Alfreds father was a opera singer and so were many of his friends. When they had problems, who did they come to? Well the Ear, Nose and Throat doctor, of course. Often their problem were that they had damaged their ears with their own voices, and they then forced the voice to produce a sound, which the ears no longer hear.
Alfreds method of solving this, was by using his creative skills and developed a device, which he called The Electric Ear.
The electric ear was capable of doing a lot of fancy stuff, such as use bone conduction in order to enhance the frequencies, which the opera singers had a hard time hearing.
He later then moved this treatment to other conditions, such as: Depression, Dyslexia, severe schizophrenia and Autism. He did this because he thought, that there was evidence of, that one of the underlying causes to these disorders, was due to failure of communication.
Alfred even theorized, that since the fetal ear is developed around the fourth month of pregnancy, that information coming from the fetal ears, could by stimulation guide the development of the brain.
Alfred later left the orthodox medical community, admitting himself, that his practices were “beyond the scope of normative allopathic comprehension“. In other words, unorthodox. He also admitted that he regretted not providing more statistical evidence about his work.
If anyone is still here at this point, you are probably wondering, what on earth is he going on about. Will he ever get into the subject of The Mozart Effect?
Well you see here comes the important part..
When mr. Alfred A. Tomatis was performing the Tomatis method on his patients, he was using the sound of Gregorian Chants, the voice of the patient’s mother and recordings of Mozart.
Alfred coined the term The Mozart Effect.
HOWEVER, he did not make the claim, that listening to Mozart would make anyone smarter. But what he did claim, was that the Tomatis Method/The Mozart Effect had helped adults with dyslexia, attention deficit, autism, learning disability. It also claimed to help adults fight depression, learn foreign languages faster and develop better communication.
Alfreds work has often been confused with being the origin to the claim that listening to Mozart makes you smart.
But the reason is a whole other..
Don Cambell – The Mozart Effect as commercial use.
It wasn’t until later, when a man named Don Campbell wrote a book called “The Mozart Effect: Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind, and Unlock the Creative Spirit” (1997).
In this book mr. Campbell directly claimed that listening to Mozart made you smarter and that listening to Mozart increased the persons IQ.
It even came to the point where United States‘ Governor of Georgia, Zell Miller, wanted to give every child born in Georgia a CD of classical music.
The book written by Don and thus his claim, was based on a scientific article published in the 1993 Nature report.
Don Cambell uses the term to great commercial advantage and also recommended that people played “Special selected classical music” to infants, in hopes that this would increase the development of their brains. There soon after also came a follow-up book called “The Mozart Effect For Children” and he also created related products.
However, ever since his claim, there have been many articles that have disproven this claim. More about this down below.
Point for the Mozart Effect
In 1993 the controversial Nature report stated, that listening to Mozart for 10 mintues increased peoples ability to do tasks – such as recognizing patterns, or folding paper. As earlier described this was the report, which Don Cambell based his theory on.
But what has science said since..?
The Effect of Music on the Human Brain
A report called ARTS, BRAIN AND COGNITION, which was published in Psychiatria Danubina, states that Music is a great stimulus for neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is an umbrella term, which describes the lasting effects on the develpment of the human brain throughout an individual’s life. They go on to say that other studies have shown correlation between neurotransmitter and hormone levels and music.
They then go on to say:
Listening to music and Blood Pressure, Heart Rate and Cortisol
Another study titled:
The Cardiovascular Effect of Musical Genres
They focused on something quite different. They divided 60 random people into three groups. Each one of these groups listened to 25 minutes of either:
- Group 1: W. A. Mozart
- Group 2: J. Strauss Jr.
- Group 3: ABBA
The blood levels of: Cortisol (Stress Hormone), Heart Rate and Blood pressure were measured before and after listening to music.
There was also a control group of 60 people, which did not listen to anything and still had the same tests done.
The results were quite interesting. The results showed that listening to Mozart or Strauss for 25 minutes could decrease the blood pressure of the subjects a mean 4.7 mmHg systolic and 2.1 mmHg diastolic.
However, listening to ABBA did not have any significant effect on blood pressure. Normal bloodpressure is around 120/80.
The effects were similar with heart rate, which decreased in both the Mozart and Strauss group, but not in the ABBA group.
Cortisol levels decreased across all three groups.
The Effect of Music on Grades – Do Students that Study Music get better Grades?
It has often been mentioned that listening to music can increase your cognitive ability, but does studying music get you better grades in other subjects?
This has been studied and if you are interested in reading about what effects of studying music has on your grades, you should check out our other article called:
Does Studying Music Improve Your Grades in Other Subjects?
To give you the short version:
There was a study, which asked the question: “Do students who like/perform music have better grades than the others?“. The research followed two groups of students, which both received around the same grades for the first two years of secondary school.
Throughout these first two years music was compulsory but during the next three years, music courses were optional.
The results showed a clear correlation between students, which chose music as an optional course got higher better grades. From the first year the students that studied music theory received higher grades and this continued throughout the following three years.
So their conclusion was:
Points Against the Mozart Effect
Even though many studies find benefits from listening to music, this music sometimes being Mozart, does not really prove the Mozart Effect, as Don Cambell described it.
In general the Mozart Effect is met with skepticism in the scientific world, especially because the study, from the report in Nature, called The Mozart Effect, is very hard to replicate.
By far the most credible source against the Mozart Effect is a Meta Analysis called.. are you ready..?
Mozart effect–Shmozart effect: A meta-analysis
I like the name.
First off, a Meta analysis is when you gather and compare similar studies to see if there is a correlation across the results.
And you guessed it.. There wasn’t. At least as far as they could observe.
The meta-analysis consisted of nearly 40 studies and 3000 subjects.
They concluded that the results of the Mozart Effect was very hard to replicate and that as a whole, there was little evidence left for a specific, performance-enhancing Mozart Effect.
Summary – Is the Mozart Effect a Real Thing
The Mozart Effect as described by Don Campbell has been somewhat disproved by many scientists. There is no evidence that indicates, that by listening to Mozart for a while you gain IQ. However, as we have talked about, there are beneficial effects of music as a whole.
We talked about a study that showed that pupils, which chose Music as a subject, received higher grades across all subjects. So perhaps we need to think of it more as music as a lifestyle and steer away from the assumption, that one genre or song has the positive effect.
When someone is involved with music, they become part of a community, which may be beneficial for cognitive function.
Don’t focus on the direct effects of “listening to Mozart for one minutes gives you 5 IQ points” etc., instead focus on the general effects of music as a whole. Does it relax you? Does it make you focus better when listening to music? Well then indulge! And this will increase your cognitive function in the long run.
If you feel like Music enriches your daily life and do you believe it will enrich the life of others around you, then please play music! Let the music fill every corner of your home and believe that it is beneficial.
And I would like to end with a quote from Oliver Sacks, a professor of neurology and writer, who extensively studied the effect of music on human health: