24 January 2006

Can Mozart make you smart?

Listening to music by Mozart probably doesn't make your kids any smarter, claims an analysis of the popular idea. But, of course, not everyone agrees.

Listening to music by Mozart probably doesn't make your kids any smarter, claims an analysis of the popular idea.

But, of course, not everyone agrees.

In the early 1990s, parents and expectant parents rushed to music stores to purchase Mozart with the hope that listening to the classical master - even in utero - would increase their progeny's intelligence.

Dubbed the "Mozart effect," the idea has grown to include just about any positive effect that music has on the mind or body. Believers say it can be used to improve memory, awareness, learning and listening and also can help people with depression, anxiety and even attention deficit disorder.

But can the music of Mozart really do all this?

Probably not, says Bryan Hunter, a professor of music.

The belief stems from research first done on a small group of college students at the University of California, Hunter says. Researchers there played the first 10 minutes of Mozart's "Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major" for some of the students and then gave all of the students spatial temporal reasoning tests.

The students who had listened to Mozart scored higher than those who had not, Hunter says.

Other researchers have tried to duplicate those results, but few have had any success, he says. The original researchers did duplicate their results in 1995, but since then have gone on to study the effects of keyboard instruction in preschoolers, which Hunter says has shown more consistent and long-lasting results than listening to Mozart did for the college students.

Still, the "Mozart effect" became somewhat of a household phrase for two reasons, Hunter says. The press and public relations efforts of the music industry made the term almost universally recognised, he says, and then came the 1997 book The Mozart Effect, written by Don Campbell, who also trademarked the phrase.

"His book is a compilation of everything positive music has done for people," Hunter says. "That's not necessarily wrong, but it has nothing to do with Mozart." Hunter recently presented his views at an American Psychiatric Association meeting.

Others, however, believe the "Mozart effect" does exist.

"As people listen, there is a neurological reaction to the music," says Donald Sloane, director of the Centre for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Some studies have shown that children do score higher on intelligence tests and SATs after listening to Mozart, Sloane says, although he says study results have been varied.

But he also believes that Mozart is not the only music that can produce a response.

Any music that engages the mind in a more complex way, like classical or jazz and even some pop music, stimulates the brain, Sloane says.

What to do

"Playing classical music for kids is a terrific thing," Sloane says. "There are no negative side effects." And with that, Hunter agrees.

Sloane and Hunter also agree that music can have positive effects on people and be useful in treating some conditions, like anxiety.


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