Myths about the brain no. 6: Listening to Mozart will make you smarter.

The idea of increasing your IQ by doing the simple act of listening to the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has been around since the 1950’s and has grown into a full blow industry, with endless books, CD’s and DVD’s. Despite it being highly lucrative and popular, there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest it is true (surprise surprise).

The scientific genesis of this myth comes from a study in the 1990’s, which found that subjects who had listened to 10 minutes of a Mozart sonata scored higher than those who didn’t. (The study had a very small number of participants and was between subjects, so they can’t even be certain the higher reported scores weren’t due to the “Mozart hearing” group just being more intelligent). This story was taken by the media and blown up to create the idea that listening to Mozart will make you smarter over the long-term. However, the initial study didn’t even test overall intelligence, it only tested participants on a few spatial-temporal tasks, and the effect wore off after 15 minutes. There’s also the small problem that the effect hasn’t been replicated under more controlled conditions (a key tenet of science is being able to replicate an effect under the same or similar circumstances). Several follow-up studies have found that listening to Mozart can temporarily increase cognitive skills whilst many more studies found no significant effect.

So it seems extremely unlikely that listening to Mozart will result in any long-term increase in your cognitive faculties. Learning to play an instrument however, has been shown to improve vocabulary, reading performance and a whole host of other skills
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Hallam, S. (2010). The power of music: It’s impact on the intellectual, social, and personal development of children and young people. International Journal of Music Education, 28, 3, 269-289.
Lamb, S.J. & Gregory, A.H. (1993). The Relationship between Music and Reading in Beginning Readers. Educational Psychology: An International Journal of Experimental Educational Psychology, 13, 1, 19-27.
Piro, J.M. & Ortiz, C. (2009). The effect of piano lessons on the vocabulary and verbal sequencing skills primary grade students. Psychology of Music, doi: 10.1177/0305735608097248

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