The Mozart effect is a theory in psychology that refers to research purporting that young children learn better when they listen to the music of famous classical musician, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Early studies indicated that when Mozart was played, short-term improvements in some cognitive functions were experienced by children. However, over time those assumptions were generalized and applied to classical music by other composers, as well.
Mozart Lives On in the Realm of Pop Psychology
The benefits of music on humans have been a topic of interest to researchers for many decades. And the notion that Mozart’s music has a profound effect on human cognition originated with the theories of a French researcher by the name of Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis. Throughout his many decades of working with disabled children, Dr. Tomatis correlated classical music – specifically Mozart – to a decreased incidence of anxiety and depression. Dr.Tomatis’ research also demonstrated an improvement in communication skills and an increase in creativity in his young subjects.
Calling upon the foundational work of Dr. Tomatis’, Fransces Rauscher and Gordon Shaw published papers in 1993 supporting the alleged Mozart effect. Rauscher and Shaw’s work outlined experimental tests where children listened to short excerpts from various piano sonatas by Mozart. The outcome of the experiments showed a short-term increase in spatial reasoning ability. It didn’t take long for well-intentioned parents to begin buying into the so-called “Mozart Effect” and buying up Mozart music to play in their home.
Questioning the Efficacy of Mozart’s Music
Closer examination of Rauscher and Shaw’s experiments coupled with subsequent studies yielded some questions as to the efficacy of the Mozart effect. Today, human behavior experts do not generally attribute increases in IQ to the Mozart effect even when children are reared listening to classical music. Interestingly however, researchers have produced solid evidence that the music of Mozart does, in fact, reduce the severity of seizures in epileptic patients. Mozart’s music also consistently raises the spatial IQ of Alzheimer’s patients. Even though the same experiments have been conducted using music from other classical composers, it seems that Mozart’s music alone produces these results in subjects with these specific conditions. Mozart music also profoundly affects the behavior of rats. It seems that rats raised listening to Mozart are able to run mazes faster than other rats that listened to other composers or no music at all.
There is no question that there is a positive correlation between listening to music and improved learning skills. However, the purported effects of Mozart’s music have not been definitively proven for increasing the IQ of children. Even so, research into the alleged Mozart effect continues to raise eyebrows, as well as more questions.