What is the Mozart effect? Does it make us smarter?

During the last years the so-called “Mozart effect” has become very popular. According to those who defend the existence of this phenomenon, listening to the music of the Austrian composer, or classical music in general, increases intelligence and other cognitive abilities, especially during early development.

Although scientific research suggests that there is a real part in such claims, the truth is that a review of the existing literature shows that the potential benefits of listening to music have been oversized, at least in the area of ​​intelligence. However, music can be very positive for people for other reasons.

    What is the Mozart effect?

    We call “Mozart effect” the hypothesis which proposes that listening to Mozart’s music increases intelligence and cognitive benefits in infants and young childrenAlthough there are also those who say that these effects also occur in adults.

    Most studies have investigated the existence of this phenomenon focused on Mozart’s Sonata K448 for two pianos. Similar properties are attributed to other piano compositions by the same author and to many similar works in terms of structure, melody, harmony and tempo.

    More broadly, this concept can be used to refer to the idea that music, especially classical music, is therapeutic for people and / or increases their intellectual capacities.

      The benefits of music

      The most obvious benefits of music are related to emotional health. Since ancient times, humans have used this art as a method to reduce stress and improve mood, both consciously and without realizing it.

      In this sense, we currently speak of music therapy to refer to interventions that use music as a tool to reduce psychological distress, improve cognitive functions, develop motor skills or facilitate the acquisition of social skills, among other goals.

      Recent scientific research has confirmed much of what has been believed: music therapy is effective for reduce symptoms of mental disorders such as depression, dementia, or schizophrenia, And also to decrease the risk of suffering cardiovascular accidents.

        History and popularization

        The Mozart Effect began to gain popularity in the 1990s with the release of the book “Why Mozart?” (“Why Mozart?”), By French otolaryngologist Alfred Tomatis, who coined the term. This researcher said that listening to the music of Mozart can have therapeutic effects on the brain and promote its development.

        however, it was Don Campbell who popularized the concept of Tomatis through his book “The Mozart Effect”. Campbell attributed to Mozart’s music beneficial properties “to heal the body, strengthen the mind, and liberate the creative spirit,” as the extended title of the book puts it.

        Campbell’s work was based on a study by researchers Frances Rauscher, Gordon Shaw and Catherine Ky published a few years earlier in the journal Nature. However, this study did not show that a slight improvement in spatial reasoning up to a maximum of 15 minutes after listening to Sonata K448.

        Articles from the New York Times or the Boston Globe have also contributed to the current fame of the Mozart effect. After all this literature was published, a company began to form around musical compilations with supposed intellectual benefits, especially for children, Since Campbell also wrote the book “The Mozart Effect for Children.”

        Mozart Effect Research

        Campbell’s statements and the articles referred to clearly exaggerate the conclusions of the study de Rauscher et al., who found only slight evidence of a possible short-term improvement in spatial reasoning. In any case, it cannot be extracted from existing research that music increases IQ, at least directly.

        In general, experts claim that the Mozart effect is an experimental artefact that would be explained by the euphoric effects of certain musical works and by the increased brain activation they cause. Both factors have been linked to improved cognitive function in the short term.

        Thus, the benefits of the Mozart effect, which is in a way real, are not specific to this author’s work or classical music, but are shared by many other compositions and even by very active activities, different, like reading or sport.

        On the other hand, and although listening to classical music early in development has not been shown to be necessarily beneficial, playing a musical instrument it can promote the emotional well-being and cognitive development of children if it motivates them and stimulates them intellectually. Something similar is happening with other forms of art and creativity.

          Bibliographical references:

          • Campbell, D. (1997). The Mozart Effect: Harnessing the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Spirit, and Unlock the Creative Spirit (1st ed.). New York: Avon Books.
          • Campbell, D. (2000). The Mozart Effect for Children: Awaken your child’s mind, health and creativity with music. New York: HarperCollins.
          • Jenkins, JS (2001). The Mozart effect. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 94 (4): 170-172.
          • Rauscher, FH, Shaw, GL and Ky, CN (1993). Interpretation of spatial and musical tasks. Nature, 365 (6447): 611.
          • Tomatis, A. (1991). Why Mozart? Paris: Hachette.

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