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The Mozart Effect?

The Mozart effect is a phrase introduced by Alfred A. Tomatis to describe the purported increase in brain development that occurs when children under the age of three years listen to Mozart. Two researchers Gordon Shaw and Francis Rauscher at the University of California Irvine have been the most ardent promoters of this idea. In one of their studies, preschool children were divided into three groups. One group received private piano/keyboard and singing lessons. Another group received computer lessons. A third group had no lessons at all. The results showed that the music training group scored 34 percent higher on measures of spatial temporal ability than the children in the other groups. Although this study has not been replicated and the long-term effects have not been demonstrated, it has created a great deal of research and spawned a host of programs and CDs for infants and children.

But Shaw and Rauscher have also spawned an unsupported mythology about the supposed benefits of the listening to classical music. Dan Campbell, for example, claims that music has magical curative powers and can even remove blood clots on the brain. When confronted with common sense the whole argument falls apart.

Mozart himself, for example, was often ill. And if the Mozart effect is so powerful why aren’t our best and brightest Mozart specialists? And when scientists look at the evidence provided by Shaw and Rauscher, they could not find any kind of an effect at all. Brain scientists, Kenneth Steel and James Bruer say that the research literature simply does not support this proposition; there are no demonstrable health or intelligence increasing benefits to listening to Mozart. Likewise, psychologist Robert Culietta, Ph.D. author of Raising Musical Kids says that he too has looked at the research and finds little support for music increasing math skills, language skills, or overall academic achievement. But children who learn to play a musical instrument may learn motivation and discipline which are essential to academic achievement.

So we should not throw the good Mozart out with the bad science. As the poet Congreve wrote: “Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.” Music is pleasurable, relaxing, and part of our human and cultural heritage. We should expose infants and children to good music not because it will make them brighter, but because it will make them happier. Music can also stimulate an infant or child’s motor activities. Listening to a song, an infant may keep time to the music by banging his or her spoon. And even toddler’s will sometime dance in response to the music they hear. Music may not increase intelligence, but it certainly does wonders for the heart.

For a sound, solid research review of these issues you might want to look at John Bruer’s book The Myth of the First Three Years.

By Professor David Elkind 

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