You probably have heard about “Mozart Effect”. If not, it is the idea that listening to classical music can boost the intelligence of people especially for babies.

The phenomenon was based on a study at the University of California, Irvine, in 1993. Psychologist Frances Rauscher found that 36 students who listened to Mozart’s 1781 Sonata for Two Pianos in D major before a spatial reasoning test did significantly better than those who listened to monotone speaking voice or silence at all 1.

The reactions were overwhelming after Dr. Rauscher published her findings. However, instead of understanding Rauscher’s idea that listening to Mozart’s music improved spatial reasoning for about 10 minutes, the public simply interpreted the results of the experiment as “Mozart makes you smart”.

To find out if the Mozart effect really exists, in 1999, Christopher Chabris, a Harvard graduate student at that time, spent five years studying the effect 2. After adding up the results of 16 studies, he concluded that

There’s a very small enhancement in learning a specific task, such as visualizing the result of folding and cutting paper, but even that is not statistically significant. The improvement is smaller than the average variation of a single person’s IQ test performance.

Analyzing 40 different Mozart effect studies with 3,000 individuals, Dr. Jakob Pietschnig and his team from the University of Vienna declared blatantly that there is no evidence of such effect or its existence. The result of the study was published in Intelligence, 2010 3. Dr. Pietschnig said

Those who listened to music, Mozart or something else – Bach, Pearl Jam – had better results than the silent group. But we already knew people perform better if they have a stimulus …… I recommend everyone listen to Mozart, but it’s not going to improve cognitive abilities as some people hope

The benefits of music to kids

Even though most studies deny the Mozart effect, music tends to get us prepared and ready for some mental activities. In fact, findings have shown that children that learned how to play piano for a duration of six months have an enhanced ability to work puzzles and carry out other spatial activities by as much as 30 %.

As Dr. Rauscher said

The key to it is that you have to enjoy the music ….. If you hate Mozart you’re not going to find a Mozart Effect. If you love Pearl Jam, you’re going to find a Pearl Jam effect.

Last updated : Mar 9, 2020 @ 3:49 am

  1. Rauscher FH, Shaw GL, Ky KN. Music and spatial task performance. Nature 1993;365: 611
  2. Chabris, C. F. (1999). Prelude or requiem for the ‘Mozart effect’. Nature, 400(1), 826-827
  3. Pietschnig, J., Voracek, M., & Formann, A.K. (2010). Mozart effect-Schmozart: A meta-analysis. Intelligence, doi:10.1016/j.intell.2010.03.001