The Mozart Effect

by bofengc

Most music scholars would agree that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was one of the most precocious and influential musical composers of all time. Having been a piano player for seven years, I felt a wave of nostalgia when in class we listened to his Sonata No. 16 in C Major and Alla Turca, two pieces that I played in the past. As the music played, I couldn’t help but allow my muscle memory to guide my fingers to play the original notes on the imaginary keyboard on my desk. But to what extent was Mozart’s influence on the world today? Of course, thousands of pianists today still play the two above-mentioned pieces for fun, but his music in fact goes beyond a simply recreational purpose. As I was browsing Mozart’s music online, I came up across an incredibly interesting phenomenon that I had actually heard about before but never really explored in detail. That phenomenon is “The Mozart Effect.”

The story begins sometime in the 1950s. An ENT doctor named Alfred Tomatis claimed that listening to Mozart’s music could help people with speech or auditory problems. Fast forward to 1990. A psychiatrist named Dr. Gordon Shaw conducted a study at the University of California at Irvine on 36 students who listened to a Mozart sonata (Sonata in D Major for Two Pianos) before taking an IQ test. The students’ average IQ increased by 8 points, and thus, the “Mozart effect” was introduced. However, many people were still skeptical about this discovery. Could simply listening to Mozart’s classical pieces increase IQ?

In 1993, Shaw, along with 2 more scientists (Rauscher and Ky), decided to conduct another experiment to determine whether the Mozart Effect really lived up to its name. However, this time, subjects were given standard tests of abstract spatial reasoning. Spatial reasoning is the ability to visualize spatial patterns and manipulate them. The scientists found that the subjects exhibited a temporary 15-minute enhancement of their spatial reasoning abilities, but no definitive increase in IQ.

Although the 1993 experiment debunked the theory that listening to Mozart increases IQ, the Mozart Effect gained significant popularity. In 1998, Zell Miller, the governor of Georgia, stated that he would propose a budget of over $100,000 to provide every child born in Georgia with a CD of classical music. Some critics, however, blasted Miller and argued that the money should rather go towards music education programs.

Mozart’s music has also been found to have additional health benefits. Patients with epilepsy have been played the same Sonata in D Major for Two Pianos, with the effect of having a decrease in epileptic activity in the brain. Studies have also found that some rats perform more efficiently through mazes after exposed to Mozart’s music.

So do you believe in the Mozart effect? Although it may not actually augment IQ, is it worth listening to Mozart’s music for the increase in spatial reasoning ability? Or maybe we should just leave science out of it and listen to Mozart for the sake of listening to beautiful sonatas?