The phrase Mozart Effect conjures an image of a pregnant woman who, putting headphones conspicuously over her belly, is convinced that playing classical music to her unborn child will improve the kids' intelligence. But is there science to back up this idea, which has brought about a cottage industry of books, CDs and videos?
A short paper published in Nature in 1993 unwittingly introduced the supposed Mozart effect to the masses. Psychologist Frances Rauscher's study involved 36 college kids who listened to either 10 minutes of a Mozart sonata, a relaxation track or silence before performing several spatial reasoning tasks. In one test——determining what a paper folded several times over and then cut might look like when unfolded——students who listened to Mozart seemed to show significant improvement in their performance (by about eight to nine spatial IQ points).
In addition to a flood of commercial products in the wake of the finding, in 1998 then——Georgia governor Zell Miller mandated that mothers of newborns in the state be given classical music CDs. And in Florida, day care centers were required to broadcast symphonies through their sound systems.
Earlier this year, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in Germany published a second review study from a cross-disciplinary team of musically inclined scientists who declared the phenomenon nonexistent. I would simply say that there is no compelling evidence that children who listen to classical music are going to have any improvement in cognitive abilities, adds Rauscher, now an associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. It's really a myth, in my humble opinion.