Mozart effect

Mozart effect

The Mozart effect can refer to:

  • A set of research results that indicate that listening to Mozart's music may induce a short-term improvement on the performance of certain kinds of mental tasks known as "spatial-temporal reasoning;"[1]
  • Popularized versions of the theory, which suggest that "listening to Mozart makes you smarter," or that early childhood exposure to classical music has a beneficial effect on mental development;
  • A US trademark for a set of commercial recordings and related materials, which are claimed to harness the effect for a variety of purposes. The trademark owner, Don Campbell, Inc.,[2] claims benefits far beyond improving spatio-temporal reasoning or raising intelligence, defining the mark as "an inclusive term signifying the transformational powers of music in health, education, and well-being."

The term was first coined by Alfred A. Tomatis who used Mozart's music as the listening stimulus in his work attempting to cure a variety of disorders. The approach has been popularized in a book by Don Campbell, and is based on an experiment published in Nature suggesting that listening to Mozart temporarily boosted scores on one portion of the IQ test.[3] As a result, the Governor of Georgia, Zell Miller, proposed a budget to provide every child born in Georgia with a CD of classical music.


Alfred A. Tomatis

The concept of the "Mozart effect" was described by French researcher, Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis in his 1991 book Pourquoi Mozart? (Why Mozart?). He used the music of Mozart in his efforts to "retrain" the ear, and believed that listening to the music presented at differing frequencies helped the ear, and promoted healing and the development of the brain.

Rauscher et. al. 1993 study

Rauscher, Shaw, and Ky (1993) investigated the effect of listening to music by Mozart on spatial reasoning, and the results were published in Nature. They gave research participants one of three standard tests of abstract spatial reasoning after they had experienced each of three listening conditions: a sonata by Mozart, repetitive relaxation music, and silence. They found a temporary enhancement of spatial-temporal reasoning, as measured by the Stanford-Binet IQ test. Shaw and Rauscher claim that their work has been misrepresented. What they have shown is "that there are patterns of neurons that fire in sequences, and that there appear to be pre-existing sites in the brain that respond to specific frequencies."* This is not quite the same as showing that listening to Mozart increases intelligence in children.[4]

Rauscher et. al. show that the enhancing effect of the music condition is only temporary: no student had effects extending beyond the 15-minute period in which they were tested. The study makes no statement of an increase in IQ in general, but in participants' spatial intelligence scores.[4]


While Rauscher et. al. only showed an increase in "spatial intelligence", the results were popularly interpreted as an increase in general IQ. This misconception, and the fact that the music used in the study was by Mozart, had an obvious appeal to those who valued this music; the Mozart effect was thus widely reported. In 1994, New York Times music columnist Alex Ross wrote in a light-hearted article, "researchers [Rauscher and Shaw] have determined that listening to Mozart actually makes you smarter", and presented this as the final piece of evidence that Mozart has dethroned Beethoven as "the world's greatest composer." A 1997 Boston Globe article mentioned some of the Rauscher and Shaw results. It described one study in which three- and four-year-olds who were given eight months of private piano lessons scored 34% higher on tests of spatio-temporal reasoning than control groups given computer lessons, singing lessons, and no training.

The 1997 book by Don Campbell, "The Mozart Effect: Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind, and Unlock the Creative Spirit", discusses the theory that listening to Mozart (especially the piano concertos) may temporarily increase one's IQ and produce many other beneficial effects on mental function. Campbell recommends playing specially selected classical music to infants, in the expectation that it will benefit their mental development. These theories are controversial. The relationship of sound and music (both played and listened to) for cognitive function and various physiological metrics has been explored in studies with no definitive results. After The Mozart Effect, Campbell wrote a follow-up book, The Mozart Effect For Children, and created related products. Among these are collections of music that he states harness the Mozart effect to enhance "deep rest and rejuvenation", "intelligence and learning", and "creativity and imagination". Campbell defines the term as "an inclusive term signifying the transformational powers of music in health, education, and well-being. It represents the general use of music to reduce stress, depression, or anxiety; induce relaxation or sleep; activate the body; and improve memory or awareness. Innovative and experimental uses of music and sound can improve listening disorders, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, autism, and other mental and physical disorders and diseases".[5]

Political impact

The political impact of the theory was demonstrated on January 13, 1998, when Zell Miller, governor of Georgia, announced that his proposed state budget would include $105,000 a year to provide every child born in Georgia with a tape or CD of classical music. Miller stated "No one questions that listening to music at a very early age affects the spatial-temporal reasoning that underlies math and engineering and even chess." Miller played legislators some of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" on a tape recorder and asked "Now, don't you feel smarter already?" Miller asked Yoel Levi, music director of the Atlanta Symphony, to compile a collection of classical pieces that should be included. State representative Homer M. DeLoach said "I asked about the possibility of including some Charlie Daniels or something like that, but they said they thought the classical music has a greater positive impact. Having never studied those impacts too much, I guess I'll just have to take their word for that."[6]

Limitations of the effect

Popular presentations of the "Mozart effect", including Alex Ross's comment that "listening to Mozart actually makes you smarter" and Zell Miller's "don't you feel smarter" query to the Georgia legislature, almost always tie it to "intelligence." Rauscher, one of the original researchers, has disclaimed this idea. In a 1999 reply to an article challenging the effect,[7] published along with the article, she wrote (emphasis added):

Our results on the effects of listening to Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major K. 448 on spatial–temporal task performance have generated much interest but several misconceptions, many of which are reflected in attempts to replicate the research. The comments by Chabris and Steele et al. echo the most common of these: that listening to Mozart enhances intelligence. We made no such claim. The effect is limited to spatial–temporal tasks involving mental imagery and temporal ordering.

On efforts like Miller's budget proposal, and the press attention surrounding the effect, Rauscher has said, "I don't think it can hurt. I'm all for exposing children to wonderful cultural experiences. But I do think the money could be better spent on music education programs."[8]

Research performed at School of Psychology, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, published in 2010 suggests limitations: "Listening to Mozart does not improve children's spatial ability: Final curtains for the Mozart effect".

Other research

Another experiment that agrees with the claim was made by Bellarmine College. To make sure the Mozart effect was consistent, The Department of Psychology at Bellarmine College tested the spatial reasoning of the participants in a study by having them complete pencil-and-paper mazes of varying complexity. The students were given eight minutes to complete as many mazes as possible. If the Mozart effect is replicable, then the participant's performances on the mazes should be enhanced after listening to Mozart's music relative to the other two listening conditions. Of the 22 volunteers, the average student completed 2.68 mazes in 8 minutes after listening to Mozart's music. After listening to different types of music, the average student only completed 2.2 mazes, and after being in silence, the average student completed 1.73 mazes.[9]

Other researchers argue that the "Mozart Effect" is only an artifact of the short-term effects of music listening on mood and arousal. William Forde Thompson, Gabriela Husain, and Glenn Schellenberg (2001) tested the Mozart effect on 24 graduate and undergraduate students with a range of musical background (average of 2.75 years of formal music lessons). The participants listened to either Mozart's Piano Sonata in D major (K.448), or to "Albinoni's Adagio In G Minor". The Mozart sonata contrasts with the Adagio in being more upbeat and energetic than the slower, sadder Adagio. The participants then performed the same spatial-temporal task that was administered in the original study by Rauscher and colleagues, called the "Paper Folding and Cutting" task, or PF&C. Participants then completed a standard battery for evaluating mood and arousal, called the "Profile of Mood States". They also provided simple ratings of their mood and energy levels on a scale from 1 to 7. Finally, they also rated how much they enjoyed the music that they heard.

The participants performed significantly better on the spatial-temporal task after listening to Mozart's sonata than after listening to the Adagio. However, this apparent benefit disappeared when differences in mood and arousal were held constant by statistical means.[10]

Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos in D major K.448 has also been known to reduce the number of seizures that people with epilepsy have. The University of Illinois Medical Center did an experiment on 29 epileptic patients. After listening to the piece for up to 300 seconds, 23 of the 29 patients experienced significant decreases in epileptiform activity, even from patients in comas. They are not certain if this effect is immediate or if it requires 40–300 seconds to become apparent.[11]

Music has different effects on different people and because of this, researchers continue to test if the Mozart effect is real, and if any other pieces have the same effect.[4]

In addition, music has been evaluated to see if it has other properties. The April 2001 edition of Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine assessed the possible health benefits of the music of Mozart.[12] John Jenkins played Sonata K.448 to patients with epilepsy and found a decrease in epileptiform activity. According to the British Epilepsy Organization, research has suggested that apart from Mozart's K.448 and Piano Concerto No. 23 (K. 488), only one other piece of music has been found to have a similar effect; a song by the Greek composer Yanni, entitled "Acroyali/Standing in Motion" (version from Yanni Live at the Acropolis performed at the Acropolis).[12] It was determined to have the "Mozart effect", by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine because it was similar to Mozart's K.448 in tempo, structure, melodic and harmonic consonance and predictability.[12][13]

Chabris and Steele

The existence of the Mozart effect was challenged by two teams of researchers in 1999: Christopher F. Chabris [14] , and Kenneth M. Steele et. al.[15] in a pair of papers published together under the title "Prelude or Requiem for the 'Mozart Effect'?" Chabris stated that his meta-analysis demonstrated "that any cognitive enhancement is small and does not reflect any change in IQ or reasoning ability in general, but instead derives entirely from performance on one specific type of cognitive task and has a simple neuropsychological explanation", called "enjoyment arousal". For example, he cites a study that found that "listening either to Mozart or to a passage from a Stephen King story enhanced subjects' performance in paper folding and cutting (one of the tests frequently employed by Rauscher and Shaw) but only for those who enjoyed what they heard". Steele et. al. found that "listening to Mozart produced a 3-point increase relative to silence in one experiment and a 4-point decrease in the other experiment".[7]

Bridgett and Cuevas

Even if music improves performance in some settings and on some tasks, there is evidence that the effect is not general in the sense that it does not apply in other tasks. Bridget and Cuevas (2000) found that, when compared to a no-music condition, listening to music by Bach or Mozart for 10 minutes produced no effect on subsequent mathematical problem solving performance.[16]

German Research Ministry

A report published by the German Research Ministry in 2006 and analyzing over 300 published articles on music and intelligence concluded that "... passively listening to Mozart — or indeed any other music you enjoy — does not make you smarter. But more studies should be done to find out whether music lessons could raise your child's IQ in the long term".[17][18]

University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Department of Psychology

A study of rats indicated a tangible demonstration of musical enjoyment versus a physical response to the Mozart Sonata. A number of rats were exposed in utero plus 60 days post-partum to one of the following: complex music (Mozart Piano Sonata in D major (K.448)), minimalist music (a Philip Glass composition), white noise or silence, and were then tested for five days, three trials per day, in a multiple T-maze. By Day 3, the rats exposed to the Mozart music completed the maze more rapidly and with fewer errors than the rats in the other groups. The difference increased in magnitude through Day 5. This suggests that repeated exposure to complex music induces improved spatial-temporal learning in rats.[19][20]

Thompson, Schellenberg, Husain

Research by William Forde Thompson, Glenn Schellenberg, and Gabriela Husain (University of Toronto) suggests that the Mozart effect can be attributed to temporary changes in mood and arousal that result from prolonged exposure to music (e.g., 8–10 minutes). Not all music generates the Mozart effect, however. The music must be perceived as having an energetic and positive emotional quality.[21]

Other uses of Mozart's music

A German sewage treatment plant plays Mozart music to break down the waste faster, reports the UK Guardian. Anton Stucki, chief operator of the Treuenbrietzen plant., is quoted as saying, "We think the secret is in the vibrations of the music, which penetrate everything—including the water, the sewage and the cells."[22]

See also


  1. ^ William Pryse-Phillips (2003). Companion to Clinical Neurology. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195159381. , p. 611 defines the term as "Slight and transient improvement in spational[sic] reasoning skills detected in normal subjects as a result of exposure to the music of Mozart, specifically his sonata for two pianos (K448)."
  2. ^ United States Patent and Trademark Office Trademark Application and Registration Retrieval (TARR).
  3. ^ Prelude or requiem for the 'Mozart effect'? Nature 400 (1999-08-26): 827.
  4. ^ a b c Rauscher, F., Shaw, G., Ky, K. (1993). Music and spatial task performance. Nature, 365 611. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
  5. ^ Campbell, Don (1997). The Mozart Effect: Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind, and Unlock the Creative Spirit. ISBN 0-380-97418-5. 
  6. ^ Sack, Kevin (1998-01-15). "Georgia's Governor Seeks Musical Start for Babies". The New York Times. p. A12. 
  7. ^ a b Steele, M. "Papers by Steele casting doubt on the Mozart effect". Retrieved 2007-03-24. 
  8. ^ Goode, Erica (1999), "Mozart For Baby? Some Say, Maybe Not". The New York Times, 1999-08-03 p. f1: Rauscher, "the money could be better spent on music education programs."
  9. ^ Wilson, T., Brown, T. (1997). Reexamination of the effect of Mozart's music on spatial task performance. Journal of Psychology. 131 (4), 365. Retrieved December 4, 2007, from EbscoHost Research Databases.
  10. ^ Thompson, W.F., Husain, G., & Schellenberg, E.G. (2001). Arousal, mood, and the Mozart effect. Psychological Science, 12 (3), 248-251. Retrieved December 3, 2007, from PsycInfo.
  11. ^ Hughes, J., Daaboul Y., Fino, J., Shaw, G. (1998). The Mozart effect on epileptiform activity. Clin Electroencephalogr,29 (3), 109-19. Retrieved December 3, 2007, from Pubmed Database.
  12. ^ a b c "The Mozart Effect". Retrieved 2007-08-07. 
  13. ^ Yanni; Rensin, David (2002). Yanni in Words. Miramax Books. p. 67. ISBN 1-4013-5194-8. 
  14. ^ C. F. Chabris. (1999). Prelude or requiem for the 'Mozart effect'? Nature, 400, author reply 827-828
  15. ^ K. M. Steele, K. E. Bass and M. D. Crook. (1999). The mystery of the Mozart effect: Failure to replicate. Psychological Science., 10, [1]
  16. ^ "Effects of listening to Mozart and Bach on the performance of a mathematical test" Bridgett, D.J.; Cuevas, J. (2000). Perceptual and Motor Skills, 90. pp. 1171–1175. ISBN. 
  17. ^ Abbott, Alison. "Mozart doesn't make you clever". Retrieved 2009-05-22. 
  18. ^ Schumacher, Ralph. "Macht Mozart schlau?" (in German). Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung. p. 183. Retrieved 2009-05-22. 
  19. ^ "Classical Music and Spatial Reasoning". Retrieved 2008-02-24. 
  20. ^ Improved maze learning through early music exposure in rats. National Center for Biotechnology Information. PMID 9664590. 
  21. ^ "Arousal, mood, and the Mozart Effect." Thompson, W.F.; Schellenberg E.G.; Husain, G (2001). Psychological Science. pp. 12(3)248–251. ISBN. 
  22. ^ Connolly, Kate (2 June 2010). "Sewage plant plays Mozart to stimulate microbes". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 April 2011. 

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