Mozart doesn't make you clever
German government decides to tackle the myth of the 'Mozart effect'.
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, concludes a report analysing all the scientific literature on music and intelligence, which was published last week by the German research ministry.
The ministry commissioned the report — surprisingly the first to systematically review the literature on the purported intelligence effect of music — from a team of nine German neuroscientists, psychologists, educationalists and philosophers, all music experts. The ministry felt it had to tackle the subject because it had been inundated with requests for funding of studies on music and intelligence, which it didn't know how to assess.
The interest in this scientific area was first sparked by the controversial 1993 Nature report1 in which psychologist Frances Rauscher and her colleagues at the University of California, Irvine, claimed that people perform better on spatial tasks — such as recognizing patterns, or folding paper — after listening to Mozart for 10 minutes.
The 'Mozart effect' remained a marketing tool for the music industry, and some private schools, long after a torrent of additional studies started to cast doubt on the finding. In the wild commercial flurry, which often involved over-interpretation of available data, the issues of listening to music and actively practicing music were frequently mixed up.
"We went through all of the literature to find out which questions were still open," says lead author Ralph Schumacher, a piano-playing philosopher at the Humboldt University in Berlin. The report pronounced Rauscher's 'Mozart effect' dead.
Most studies on the effect on intelligence of listening to music — a body of work collectively nicknamed 'Mozart's Requiem' by music scientists — were either unable to repeat the finding or found a transient effect lasting no more than 20 minutes after listening. Even the transient effect was not specific to Mozart, but to any sort of music, or even story reading, that the test subject preferred.
The report was less dismissive of claims for an effect of music lessons on IQ development, particularly in young children. Most published studies are small and difficult to interpret, it found, and some suggest no long-term effect at all on IQ. "But one or two large and careful studies have shown a small but significant effect on IQ — which can be seen over years," says Schumacher.
But even if the effect of musical training is confirmed in future studies, he concedes, it is highly unlikely to make your child a genius, "otherwise it would be seen more clearly in the current literature," says Schumacher. "The most interesting point will be to find out how the effect, if it exists, is achieved in the brain."
- Rauscher F. H., et al. Nature, 365 . 611 (1993).