At some point in their lives, most parents, expectant parents, grandparents, and others have pondered the “Mozart effect,” which holds that exposing babies to classical music, even in utero, boosts their IQ and other aspects of their cognitive development.
But is there any truth to the Mozart effect? Its primary scientific support comes from a 1993 study showing that classical music temporarily improved college students’ scores on two parts of a general intelligence test. Subsequent studies have found classical music improved preschoolers’ performance on paper folding and cutting tasks. But the kids did just as well after they’d heard stories or listened to children’s music. What’s more, their performance depended on how much they liked the music or stories, which led to the counter theory that “enjoyment arousal” is what truly affects performance, not classical music per se.
But does Mozart affect the brain? Spearheaded by a 1964 Journal of Comparative Neurology article by neuroscientist Marian Diamond, decades of research has shown that different kinds of “enriched environments” can enhance brain development. Diamond’s work showed that when rats lived in environmentally enriched cages—with toys and the company of other rats—their brains showed greater cell density and more complex networks of connections between neurons than did the brains of rats who’d been living alone in small, bleak cages. Related research has shown that repeatedly playing music to baby rats can cause similar kinds of neural growth in their auditory cortex. Proponents of the Mozart effect often cite this line of research. But it’s unclear how—and whether—these kinds of changes in brain shape impact intelligence. Moreover, there’s little evidence that Mozart would have a stronger effect than Raffi , rock and roll, Chinese opera, or singing birds.
A new research trend focuses on the effects of studying music; so far, results suggest that, in fact, music study can boost kids’ IQ more than simply listening to it.
For now, at least, this much seems clear: It’s probably beneficial to do things with babies that engage them and make them feel happily aroused—and if they seem to enjoy classical music, put on your tutu and dance!
About The Author
Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., is the science director of the Greater Good Science Center.