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Mozart's nice but doesn't increase IQs

August 25, 1999
Web posted at: 4:26 PM EDT (2026 GMT)

In this story:

The study: Double-time

Holding the note

Ad libitum: Individual style


By Rochelle Jones

(WebMD) -- The news stories sounded like, well, music to the ears when researchers at the University of California, Irvine reported in 1993 that college students could raise their IQs by listening to a few soaring bars of a Mozart sonata.

But there's a problem with the concept of classical music as sort of a Gatorade for the brain. According to two studies reported in this week's issue of the journal Nature, classical music has no ability to increase basic intelligence in adults or children.

The 1993 finding set off many parents who reasoned that if classical music could enhance college students' intelligence, then babies might benefit as well -- even if they didn't start composing piano pieces by the age of 6 as Mozart had, said Kenneth Steele, associate professor of psychology at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina and the author of one of the two new studies.

Suddenly compact discs with titles such as "The Mozart Effect" and "Baroque for Baby" began appearing in the nursery, he said. Former Georgia Gov. Zell Miller was so impressed by the research that, in 1998, he played "Ode to Joy" for legislators and requested 105,000 dollars to give classical-music compact discs to parents of all newborns in the state.

"The Mozart effect is pretty much on the wallet of the parents who are buying the CDs," Steele said. "There's no special effect on baby."

The study: Double-time

Steele repeated the original study in which college students listened to Mozart's "Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major" for 10 minutes, then performed complicated visual tasks that involved cutting and folding paper. The students who listened to the sonata did no better than control groups who listened to other types of music or simply relaxed before taking the test.

"The experiment is not very complicated," he said. "If there is a Mozart effect, it should have shown up."

In the second study, Christopher F. Chabris, a research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, reviewed 16 previous studies involving 714 subjects that compared the IQ-boosting effects of the Mozart recording. The result: Statistically insignificant increases in the ability to complete tasks requiring spatial visualization skills and abstract reasoning, Chabris said.

"If listening to Mozart improves cognitive performance at all, it's by improving overall cognitive arousal and concentration," he said. "It shouldn't be viewed as an intellectual miracle drug."

Holding the note

Frances Rauscher, co-author of the original study, said that many researchers who tried to repeat the experiment failed because they measured the effect on general intelligence instead of on spatial-temporal abilities, or the ability to identify various shapes. She added that she was unfamiliar with Steele's research.

But Rauscher, now assistant professor of cognitive development at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, agrees with her critics on one point: There is no evidence that playing Mozart in the nursery is going to raise an infant's IQ. The researchers who did the original study in 1993 never claimed it would.

"I'm horrified -- and very surprised -- over what has happened," she said. "It's a very giant leap to think that if music has a short-term effect on college students that it will produce smarter children. When we published the study results, we didn't think anyone would care. The whole thing has really gotten out of hand."

Ad libitum: Individual style

Mozart won't work because there's no one way -- and certainly no one right way--to increase a child's intelligence, experts say.

Claire Lerner, a child-development specialist at ZERO TO THREE, a nonprofit organization devoted to providing information on childhood development, said that children react to different types of stimulation. The important thing is for parents to relax, get to know their babies and see what stimulus produces a favorable response.

"The major message is there is not one right kind of stimulation. There are individual differences in children. They learn in different ways," she said. "If someone says, this is it -- whether it's Mozart or a mobile -- alarm bells should go off."

Copyright 1999 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.


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