Are you familiar with the Mozart Effect?
The idea behind the Mozart Effect, essentially, is that listening to Mozart will make you smarter.
While a part of you may be tempted to laugh, think about how many times expecting moms are told to listen to Mozart while pregnant or put classical music on for an infant. Think about the number of classical CDs created specifically with babies in mind.
Now, before I fully dissuade you from listening to Mozart with your kids, let me say that there are benefits to having your children listen to music. However, we wanted to separate the facts from the popularized myths so you can be fully informed.
Myth: Listening to Mozart will make you smarter
Part of me wonders how this piece of information even became popularized.
Then again, people are always looking for a quick fix and if turning on Mozart will help them raise the next Rhodes Scholar, then most parents are more than willing to give it a try.
But let’s take a moment and look at the actual study from which the Mozart Effect originated.
The original research was published in 1993. Researchers had college-aged students take one of three tests of spatial-temporal reasoning.
Now let’s stop a moment here.
These tests weren’t given to children, but to young adults, and only 36 took part, at that. The idea that any results from this study could be applied to kids was flawed, from the start.
On three occasions, participants were given a series of mental tasks to complete and before each task they spent ten minutes either listening to Mozart, relaxation instructions or silence.
Researchers discovered that after the students listened to Mozart, they performed better on the test.
That said, the result was only temporary. The effect wore off after 15 minutes, which means that it’s hardly going to give kids a lifetime of enhanced intelligence.
It’s important to note that at no point did the researchers claim that listening to Mozart made the students smarter. Moreover, they didn’t spend time testing a variety of music to learn Mozart was the winner. Not at all. The choices were silence, relaxation music or Mozart. Hardly the recipe for a conclusive theory around listening to Mozart.
Fortunately, there have since been follow-up studies to dispute the popular belief that listening to Mozart will make kids smarter.
Researchers at the “University of Vienna (Pietschnig, Voracek, & Formann, 2010) performed a meta-analysis of nearly 40 studies. Guess what? They found no evidence that listening to Mozart’s music enhanced” cognitive abilities in any way.”
Fact: Music boosts brain function and can improve academic achievement
More and more studies are linking musical training to improved brain function and higher academic achievement, although you’ll have to do more than just sit and listen.
According to Psychology Today, “Practicing a musical instrument regularly engages all four hemispheres of your brain at an electrical, chemical and architectural level which optimizes brain power. Musical training also improves focus, reduces stress, and could be an antidote for the pressure that children feel to do well on standardized testing as part of No Child Left Behind and the Common Core Standards.”
One study, for example, found that the left and right hemispheres of Albert Einstein’s brain were unusually well connected, which could be linked to the fact that he began playing violin at age six.
Take a look at this video where Nina Kraus, Hugh Knowles Professor of Neurobiology, Physiology and Communication Sciences at Northwestern University, describes the neurobiological roots of music held in the deepest regions of our brainstem.
Some of the specific ways music impacts the brain are:
- Improving memory
- Babies who have music lessons tend to communicate better
- Benefits brain plasticity throughout life
- Trained musicians have superior multisensory processing skills
- Improves white matter connectivity
- Increases blood flow in the brain
- Improves executive function
- Thickens gray matter of the cortex
- Reduces academic achievement gaps
- Orchestrates neuroplasticity in the brain
False: Listening to music will improve your IQ
There are a multitude of ways that music can boost brain power (we listed 10 above). Unfortunately, improving an IQ isn’t one of them.
The original study reported an increase in “special intelligence,” not IQ. And even then, the increase was only temporary.
That said, music can still make an impact on students academically.
A report from the American Psychological Association in August of 2014 stated that “learning to play a musical instrument or to sing can help disadvantaged children strengthen their reading and language skills.”
The report went on to say, “musical training appears to enhance the way children’s nervous systems processes sounds in a busy environment, such as a classroom or a playground. This improved neural function may lead to enhanced memory and attention spans which, in turn, allow kids to focus better in the classroom and improve their communication skills.”
So music can have a strong impact academically, but improving a student’s IQ? Not one of them.
Fact: Music can help kids be more successful
Music may not be able to increase your IQ, but it may be able to help your kids achieve greater success in life.
Learning an instrument can help kids build grit.
While some kids are born with the natural ability to be good at a sport, learning a new instrument takes time, patience and dedication. Kids aren’t going to have the piano or violin mastered after only a few attempts. This continued commitment builds resilience in kids as they experience failure and push through to achieve success.
Moreover, it can help kids learn emotional control.
Researchers at the University of Vermont College of Medicine analyzed the brain scans of 232 healthy children ages 6 to 18. They were specifically looking at brain development in kids who play instruments.
“What we found was the more a child trained on an instrument,” said James Hudziak, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont and director of the Vermont Center for Children, Youth and Families, “it accelerated cortical organization in attention skill, anxiety management and emotional control.”
And, as PhD Candidate Natasha Sharma explains in her Ted Talk, emotional control, or “emotional fitness,” as she calls it, is a major indicator of overall happiness and success.
Final Thoughts on the Mozart Effect
There are no fast tracks to increase your intelligence or that of your kids. Long-term benefits require long-term training.
That said, you can achieve long-term effects from music if you introduce and encourage your child to learn an instrument.
What you should know about the Mozart Effect, though, is that:
- Listening to Mozart will NOT make you smarter
- Music CAN boost brain function and improve academic achievement
- Listening to music will NOT improve your IQ
- Music CAN help kids be more successful
What do you think? Is music a part of your family’s life?