Sunday, September 30, 2012

Discussing the Mozart Effect and Brain Development

Article:  Elderkin, J. (1999, Mar 19). Music and brain power. The Times, p. 43. Retrieved from


This newspaper article, published on March 19, 1999, brings attention to the latest point of public interest and money-making craze within the music industry, “Baby Mozart”, and questions whether prolonged listening to classical music does indeed enhance brain development.   The article shows how seriously the public is invested in the idea by describing the Governor of Georgia, Zell Miller’s, decision to guarantee each child born in state hospitals a free cd of music by Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart, based on the notion that it will help with brain development, specifically logic and spatial reasoning skills essential for mathematics. 
                Various companies are attempting to capitalise on the recent research with varying slogans on the benefits of classical music for infants.  For example, the internet company, Genius Babies, says its Baby Mozart videos “increase brain capacity”, Don Campbell supplies cds to “Tune Up Your Mind”, and Rhino Record’s cds feature “baby – friendly instruments and arrangements” of Mozart’s music.  However, it is unclear exactly how listening to Mozart helps develop the mind.
                The article briefly describes several studies that have been done. Several studies show that children who study music score higher on standardised intelligence tests, and pre-schoolers who learn to play musical instruments improve spatial reasoning abilities.  One study showed that college students scored better on spatial reasoning tests after listening to 10 minutes of Mozart vs. 10 minutes of silence and 10 minutes of rock music.  A second study showed that mice increased their ability to navigate through a maze after being exposed to classical music for 10 hours a day for 3 weeks.  


 A third study showed that British children listening to Blur and Oasis (non-classical music) before spatial reasoning tests scored slightly higher than children who listened to Mozart and children who listened to oral instructions.  These findings seem to disprove the idea that it is solely classical music which has the ability to improve spatial reasoning skills or performance on tests.  Regardless of the type of music, it is worthwhile to note that this improvement has so-far been proven to be temporary.  This is not helpful for babies who will be writing math tests in 6-12 years.  In these studies, participants have been tested directly after the listening takes place, and, in my opinion, there needs to be a distinction between temporary improvement and actual brain development in the research.  I think an interesting study would be to test children who have developed a routine of listening to classical music for a reasonable amount of time (30 minutes) each day for a few months.  However, these students would not be tested directly after having listened to the music.  Their results would be compared with those who developed a routine of listening to light rock or some other musical genre that is somewhat relaxing but not classical. The reason why I suggest this is that it’s difficult to know, as Dr. Susan Hallam states in the article, if classical music stimulates the brain, causing it to further develop and function better, or if classical music is “stimulating children emotionally, perhaps putting them in a relaxed state of mind”, helping them to focus for the tests.  If this is the case, other genres of music could be just as effective. 

                Another test I read about in Judy Taylor and Beverly Rowe’s article The “Mozart Effect” and Mathematical Connection describes a study in which aviation students listened to a Mozart cd for the entire duration of a math test, and the results of their tests were compared to those of students who completed the test in silence.  The study concluded that playing Mozart during mathematics outcome assessments improves student scores.  This, to me, seems much more plausible than the claim that prolonged listening to classical music enhances brain development.  Still though, it is difficult to believe since listening to music is often a passive activity.  In the context of a test or prior to a test, it is not likely that the student is paying close attention to the music and actively listening.  Nor is it likely that a baby will be actively listening when a parent plays Mozart for their child.  Therefore, it’s hard to measure how effective listening to music is in stimulating the brain.  I do believe that taking music lessons and actively learning to play a musical instrument or sing could enhance brain development since it is this active involvement with the music which requires a higher level of brain activity.  However, I would not invest in Zell Miller’s classical CD for babies.