Psychology is a formative science that has led to revolutionary discoveries as to how the human brain functions, develops and in some instances, can be enhanced. Although these fundamental objectives are a valuable resource within our community, it is vital that they are of verity and can be replicated; if not they are redundant to the field. Unfortunately, due to its youth, psychological science does not have a strict system of checks and balances to ensure that remittance procedures can consistently be undertaken for false claims. To this end, this essay will evaluate the questionable validity of the “Mozart Effect”. The Mozart Effect implies that playing Mozart to a baby will increase its cognitive abilities, a claim which has instigated a rapidly increasing market of “CDS to make your baby smarter”. This claim, despite having partial merit and widespread popular acceptance, is fundamentally incorrect. Through the analysis of various attempted replication studies, it is abundantly clear that the ‘Mozart Effect’ is a falsehood. This is evidenced by: the prominent lack of longevity and replication of successful results; the evaluation of arousal levels on spatial and cognitive enhancement; and, finally, the investigation of procedural flaws in key studies.Order now
While playing Mozart can marginally increase spatial performance, the longevity of the increase is doubtful. Improved performance lasts on average only 10 to 15 minutes rather than overall improved cognitive ability for a long term duration, leading to doubts as to the longevity of the speculated Mozart effect (Chabris, C. 1999; McKelvie, P., & Low, J. 2002; Bangerter, A., & Heath, C. 2004). In addition, these marginal improvements vary in spatial improvement with the original study reporting an average increase of eight to nine IQ points (Rauscher, F. & Shaw, G., & Ky, K. 1993) but with later studies widely discrediting these results. (Chabris, C. 1999; McKelvie, P., & Low, J. 2002; Bangerter, A., & Heath, C. 2004). A collaboration of sixteen studies has shown that the Mozart effect does not have an overall improvement on cognitive ability, but rather a marginal enhancement of spatial reasoning due to the music induced stimulation of the right cerebral hemisphere. This an area of the brain, associated with cognitive arousal and complex visual transformation processes involved with mental rotation of three-dimensional shapes and similar difficult spatial tasks (Chabris, C. 1999). Thus extrapolating that the Mozart effect does not ‘make babies smarter’, it only marginally improves a participant’s spatial intellect immediately after music stimuli. This collaboration of studies provides a broad scope of multiple findings which can account for any anomalies or outliers within individual study findings, however it also inhibits specificity of the results as there is no control of experimental procedures. Further limitations are the varying ages of participants and measurement of results. Ultimately, however, this meta-analysis significantly indicates that even if listening to Mozart was an effective cognitive enhancement, the benefits would only have a moderate effect of a short duration. A more detailed study supported this meta-analysis via its focus on child development and the lack of validity and longevity with the Mozart effect. Dubbing the Mozart effect “another quick fix” it concluded that Mozart, whether played to or taught to children does not exhibit any long term benefits for cognition (Jones, S. 2002).
Although the original study (Rauscher, F., & Shaw, G., & Ky, K. 1993) instigated the claim that “Mozart makes babies smarter” further studies have refuted this claim by taking a different approach. These further studies state that it is not just the act of listening to Mozart but rather the response in attitude and arousal from listening to a lively musical piece that increases spatial reasoning. This infers that it is inconsequential which piece is played, as long as it enhances arousal and positive mood. (Thompson, W., & Schellenberg, E., & Husain, G. 2001; McKelvie, P., & Low, J. 2002; Nantais, K., & Schellenber, E. 1999)
A study conducted in 1999 supported this arousal hypothesis. Twenty eight undergraduate students were first presented with a narrated story by Stephen King and in following weeks listened to a Mozart sonata. Immediately after each exposure to stimuli, they undertook spatial testing. Following the second test, the participants were asked which stimulus they preferred. Analysis of these results reflected that higher scores achieved on spatial tests strongly correlated with exposure to preferred stimuli (Nantais, K., & Schellenber, E. 1999). This study relied on a subject’s own reflection and allowed a time lapse of two weeks between control and variable, leaving many outside factors to affect the participants’ results. Ultimately, however, it indicates that it may not be the act of playing Mozart that achieves a marginal increase in spatial performance, but rather the enhancement of the participant’s arousal levels and mood. This is supported in another study 2001 (Thompson, W., & Schellenberg, E., & Husain, G. 2001) where 24 participants were sorted into two groups (consisting of undergraduates and graduates aged 24-60), one listening to Mozart sonata – a seemingly upbeat and energetic piece – and the other listening to an Albinoni adagio – a sadder and slower piece. The participants were tested with a modiﬁed version of the Standord-Binet intelligence test, focused on Paper Folding and Cutting. They also rated their arousal and mood levels on a Profile of Mood States (POMS). Ratings indicated that those who listened to Mozart reported higher levels of positive mood and arousal and lower levels of negativity and complacency whilst those that listened to Albinoni reported low levels of positive mood and arousal and higher levels of negativity and complacency. (Thompson, W., & Schellenberg, E., & Husain, G. 2001). These results evidence that it may not be the Mozart sonata but the mood that enhances spatial intelligence. This is reflected as moderate levels of arousal enhancing cognitive performance – as seen in higher results for participants listening to Mozart – whilst very low levels – as seen in participants listening to Albinoni – inhibiting such performances. (Thompson, W., & Schellenberg, E., & Husain, G. 2001).
Furthermore, positive moods can lead to improved performance on various cognitive and problem solving tasks as positive emotions increase the tendency to combine information and material in new ways and to find correlations between differing stimuli (Isen, A., & Daubman, K., & Nowicki, G. 1987). In contrast, negative moods and boredom can produce deficits in performance, response to stimuli and learning. (Smallwood, J., & Fitzgerald, A., & Miles, L., & Phillips, L. 2009; Nantais, K., & Schellenber, E. 1999) While self-reporting by participants leads to discrepancies in accuracy, overall the study provides a clear indication that arousal and mood are prominent factors in the heightening of one’s spatial and cognitive intelligence, regardless of what amplifies their mood – Mozart’s sonata or otherwise.
Although many studies have sought to test this theorem it is nearly impossible to do so in a perfectly controlled environment. To facilitate the most accurate and concise results, it is recommended that researchers re-evaluate test groups, environment and testing resources. To analyse the claim that Mozart makes babies smarter, potential future studies may include assessing child development with and without the playing of Mozart e.g. the speed of language acquisition between two control groups (Jones, S. 2002). This will potentially validate the claim further as it tests subjects in the formative stage – the stage that the claim argues will benefit cognition the most. Additionally, the testing environment must be further controlled. This includes: limited time lapse between experiment and cognitive testing; no outside stimuli or factors e.g. surrounding noises and individual testing. Finally another issue to address is the testing factor where many studies have utilised participant reflection in regards to mood, emotion etc. Although a good indicator, this form of self-evaluative testing is open to discrepancy. Therefore, to mitigate these potential discrepancies, a corroboration of participants’ individual reflection and an observationalist reflection on mood of participants should be used.
Although the Mozart effect has shown a varied enhancement of participants’ spatial cognition the claim that ‘Mozart makes babies smarter’ is completely discredited. Through the aforementioned analysis of arousal and mood factors it is clear that cognitive enhancement relies strongly on the participants’ reaction to any stimuli, rather than specifically Mozart. Additionally, the lack of dependency on just one form of stimuli to achieve result indicates that the phenomenon is not specific to Mozart’s sonata. Finally, the limited longevity discredits the importance of the speculated phenomenon as it does not have any long term benefits to the user. Overall, this claim, despite having partial merit is fundamentally incorrect, despite its wide-spread popularist acceptance.