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The Mozart effect - fact or fiction

by April Tashiro, staff writer


When the Mozart effect was first introduced to the public in 1993, it created widespread excitement about the relationship between listening to Mozart’s music and high IQ scores. To many people, the Mozart effect meant that simply listening to Mozart’s music makes people smart. However, that is not true, and because of misassumption of the Mozart effect, the original study, which identified it, has recently come under fire.

The Mozart effect was identified in a study at the University of California, Irvine, published in 1993 in Nature. The experiment was developed by two physicists, Gordon Shaw and Frances Rauscher. In their experiment, college students who listened to the first 10 minutes of Mozart Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major (K.448) showed better scores on a test of spatial-temporal reasoning than those who did not listen. Spatial-temporal reasoning is used for many skills, such as chess, math, and music. In a subsequent test, there was a difference in the level of performance. However, the effect only lasted 15 minutes.

Shaw’s next study, done on three-year-old children, found positive connection between music and reasoning ability. Those who took piano lessons performed 35 percent better on a test than those who did not. Again, the effect was temporary.

It was enough to kindle the interest of the mass media and the public, however. With often-exaggerated coverage from media, the Mozart effect became popular science. The former governor of Georgia, Zell Miller even mandated that all infants in the state should receive a classical CD when they left the hospital. In record stores, many IQ-raising CDs appeared.

However, when Psychologist Kenneth Steele from Appalachian State University duplicated the 1993 experiment, the result was contradictory. He found no effect. This finding was also published in Nature.

Christopher Chabris of Harvard University analyzed 16 studies of the Mozart effect. In 1999, in an article in The Lancet, Chabris said that at best, the music could increase IQ by 21 points in the area of spatial-temporal reasoning. This number is less than originally claimed. Moreover, it means that luck and chance can create more increase in points scored than the Mozart effect.

New research was done in 2001 at York University by psychology professor William F. Thompson, who published in the American Psychological Society journal Psychological Science. Thompson’s study showed no direct connection between listening to Mozart’s music and spatial ability. In an article on M2 Presswire, Thompson explained his findings; “The enhancement of spatial ability is merely related to changes in mood and arousal induced by music, which has a strong effect on these states, but then, so do many other things, such as chocolate, caffeine, an engaging story, or whatever suits your fancy.”

Today,study on the Mozart effect remains inconclusive,butthe research is continuing. For now, students probably should not expect Mozart to work for their exams, but listening to classical music can ease their mind and relax their brain for their better performances.


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