The Mozart effect is a phenomena whereby listening to ten minutes of Mozart’s music, a person’s spatial IQ is boosted by 8-9 points (on the Stanford-Binet IQ Scale), in comparison to listening to ten minutes of a relaxation tape or silence (Rauscher, Shaw and Ky, 1993). This literature review critically assesses the key works and concepts concerning the Mozart effect, specifically its methodologies, its limits, and finally, alternative theories. While some academics argue that ‘listening to Mozart makes babies smarter’ is a valid claim (___,__;____,__), others denounce it (___,__;___,__). While the Mozart effect does show temporarily increased spatial IQ, it does not support the claim that ‘listening to Mozart makes babies smarter’. When the term ‘smarter’ is used throughout this literature review, it refers to the overall cognitive function of the person, not just a specific domain (such as spatial reasoning). Similarly, when the term ‘babies’ is used, it refers to infants in the early developmental stages. A wide range of sources, such as journal articles, research papers, and a meta-analysis, will be critically reviewed to provide support for the claim that listening to Mozart does not make babies smarter.
Only Tested on Babies
The majority of researchers and theorists that have published work regarding the Mozart effect hold one of two views: that it increases spatial IQ, or that it doesn’t. There are copious amounts of arguments as to why or why not Rauscher, Shaw, and Ky’s original 1993 study showed that listening to Mozart makes babies smarter, but the research claim falls down in several areas. Foremost, the studies that have been conducted over the years have been tested on a range of age groups: adults (Daniels, Henley, and Markley, 2007), college students (Rauscher et al. 1993), and high school students (McKelvie and Low, 2002). However, there is one age group missing from this list: children, and specifically, babies. The research claim explicitly refers to making babies smarter, even though the original study, and all subsequent studies, have not been performed on babies. As seen in ‘Mozart effect-Shmozart effect: A meta-analysis’ by Pietschnig, Voracek and Formann (2010), nearly 40 studies (including over 3000 subjects) have been conducted to determine whether the Mozart effect really does boost spatial IQ.
Although the original study found that listening to ten minutes of Mozart boosted spatial IQ by up to 9 points (in comparison to listening to silence or a relaxation tape), this study was conducted on college students, who are at a different developmental stage than infants (Rauscher et al. 1993). Therefore, the results of this study cannot be generalised to members of the population that are in a different age group. The apparent lack of testing the Mozart effect on babies indicates that perhaps there is no plausible way to test on such young children, as they are incapable of completing spatial reasoning tasks, such as cutting and folding paper. As there have been no studies that have tested on babies, results showing improved cognitive ability in babies after listening to Mozart simply do not exist, which is a major flaw of the research claim that ‘listening to Mozart makes babies smarter. The studies conducted since the original in 1993 have been indicative of some validity of the Mozart effect, in the form of a slightly higher spatial IQ score (Jones and Estell, 2007).
Only Spatial IQ and Only Temporary
These results, however, do not show that listening to Mozart permanently boosts the overall cognitive function of adults, let alone babies. The original study by Raushcer et al. in 1993 showed that the enhancing effects of listening to Mozart for ten minutes were temporary, lasting only ten to fifteen minutes (Raushcer et al. 1993). Similarly, Jones and Zigler (2002) describe these temporal results as ‘quick fix’ solutions to a more complicated issue. Their 2002 article critiques reports on the impact of early experience on the brain in early developmental stages and proposed policies and interventions for young children. The fact that the performance enhancing effects of the Mozart effect only last ten to fifteen minutes is a significant detriment to the claim that ‘listening to Mozart makes babies smarter’. The wording of this claim implies that listening to Mozart will give permanent results with only some exposure to the music condition. However, numerous studies have indicated that this is not the case, and that the results are only temporary (McKelvie and Low, 2002; Daniels et al. 2007; Rauscher et al. 1993; Pietschnig et al. 2010). As well as only temporal results, studies are indicative of the Mozart effect only effecting spatial IQ: only one domain of the brain, rather than overall cognitive function as the research claim suggests.
The original study (Rauscher et al. 1993) involved participants performing spatial reasoning tasks to determine whether their IQ would be affected by the music condition. The results indicated a boost in spatial IQ by eight to nine points on the Stanford-Binet IQ scale. Spatial IQ, however, is only one domain of the brain. Therefore, these results do not support the claim that ‘listening to Mozart makes babies smarter’, as ‘smarter’ refers to the overall cognitive function, not just one specific domain. Furthermore, other studies (McKelvie and Low, 2002; Pietschnig et al. 2010) failed to replicate the same results found in 1993, despite using multiple designs of the experiment. Not only did these studies fail to replicate results, they were unsuccessful in producing any significant results at all (McKelvie and Low, 2002). It can therefore be deduced that the claim ‘listening to Mozart makes babies smarter’ is inherently false, even though some studies suggest partial support with alternative theories.
Since the term ‘Mozart effect’ first became well-known, theorists and academics all over the world have been trying to come up with different explanations to prove, or disprove, the findings from Rauscher, Shaw, and Ky’s original study in 1993. Over the years, several alternative theories have arisen to explain the Mozart effect.
Firstly, the Neuro-priming model, which determines that the cause of performance difference is directly influenced by the ‘Trion Model of cortical firing patterns’ caused by music listening (Noonan 2007, 3). Raushcer, Shaw and Ky (1993) argued the Neuro-priming model in their original study in 1993. They argued that the complex structure of Mozart’s music (specifically Mozart’s Sonata for two pianos in D major (K.448)) would induce cortical firing patterns that would enhance cognition involving mathematical operations and spatial reasoning (Rauscher et al. 1993; Noonan 2007). The results of the 1993 study led to the conclusion that the differences in performance were not due to arousal, but rather the excitement of Trion firing patterns associated with spatial-temporal cognition (Noonan 2007, 4).
The second is the arousal theory which attributes differences in performance to levels of arousal. Jones and Estell (2007) tested the arousal in 86 high school students by using the design of the Mozart effect. In the study, it was found that students listening to Mozart did not have significantly higher arousal levels than the students that sat in silence, however, those with higher levels of arousal performed worse on the spatial reasoning task (Jones and Estell, 2007). Although this study contains confounding variables, such as the participants’ personal taste in music and the randomness of the assignment into groups, it can be deduced that levels of arousal may be a direct influence on spatial IQ.
Lastly is the valence model, which determines that the participant’s differing taste in music influences the performance levels (Noonan 2007, ii). The valence model states that enhancement in performance after an auditory stimulus occurs due to the pleasure that the stimuli causes in the individual (Nantais & Schellenberg, 1999). To test the valence theory, Nantais and Schellenberg (1993) conducted two experiments. The first successfully replicated the results of the original 1993 study, with half of the participants listening to Mozart, the other listening to a piece by Schubert. The results led to the researchers to conclude that the performance enhancing effects of the Mozart effect are not specific to Mozart, or even music at all. Rather, they suggest performance enhancement is due to the participants being exposed to stimuli that they find appealing (Noonan 2007, 11-12). Is indicated by these alternative theories that listening to Mozart does not make babies smarter, and that there is a wide range of other contributing factors that can attribute to any change in performance after listening to Mozart.
This literature review has critically analysed and deconstructed sources that relate to the research claim that ‘listening to Mozart makes babies smarter’. It has found that there are numerous flaws in the research claim, and that those flaws are not backed up by research. It has found that studies have been performed on a range of age groups, however, not on babies, which the research claim specifically refers to. It has also been found that listening to Mozart only temporarily increases spatial IQ, and does not permanently improve overall cognitive function, which the research claim suggests. Finally, several other theories, (Neuro-priming theory, the arousal theory, and the valence theory) account for any performance enhancing effects of listening to Mozart. While the Mozart effect does show temporarily increased spatial IQ, it does not support the claim that ‘listening to Mozart makes babies smarter’.
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1. Dowd, Will. (2008). The Myth of the Mozart Effect. Skeptic, 13(4), 21-23.
2. Jones, S. M., & Zigler, E. (2002). The Mozart effect: Not learning from history. Applied Developmental Psychology, 23(1), 355-372.
3. McKelvie, P., & Low, J. (2002). Listening to Mozart does not make babies smarter: Final curtains for the Mozart effect. Developmental Psychology, 20(1), 241-258.
4. Rauscher, F.H., Shaw, G.L., & Ky, K.N. (1993). Music and spatial task performance. Nature, 365(1), 611.
5. Pietsching, J., Voracek, M., & Formann, A.K. (2010). Mozart effect-Shmozart effect: A meta-analysis. Intelligence, 38(1), 314-323.
6. Leech, C. Musical Opinion. 2006. 130(1): 20. ‘The Mozart effect: Who needs it?’
7. Thompson, W.F., Schellenberg, G.E., & Husain G. (2001), Arousal, mood, and the Mozart effect. Psychological Science, 12(3), 248-251.
8. Hui, K. (2006). Mozart effect in preschool children? Early Childhood Development and Care, 176(3-4), 411-419.
9. Noonan, P. (2007). Tempo, arousal and the underlying mechanisms of the Mozart effect. (Masters Dissertation). Available from Proquest Dissertations and Theses database. http://search.proquest.com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/docview/881641564
10. Nantais, K. M. & Schellenberg, E. G. (1999). The Mozart Effect: An artefact of preference. Psychological Science, 10(4), 370-373.