Mozart and the Mind
Music appears to be one of the fundamental activities of mankind. In nearly every country around the world people are dancing, singing, jiving, or chillin to their favorite tunes. There is just something about the variations of musical notes all mixed together that can alter the way we act, feel, and even think. It is generally agreed that music causes some kind of increased arousal in those who are the least bit interested in it and are listening with some degree of concentration. In depth studies have shown that music can reduce pain in childbirth, strengthen immune systems, and give surgery patients fewer complications with a much faster recovery (Take two? 108). The latest claim is that listening to classical music can enhance ones ability to reason abstractly, in turn boosting a person’s IQ (intelligence quotient). The question is, is the claim really valid? Astonishingly, this idea is taken as fact in most parts of America when really it is a theory based on much exaggeration.
This idea of there being a link between classical music and a person’s IQ is commonly referred to as the Mozart Effect, a term coined by Alfred Tomatis. This was first suggested about six years ago by a group of researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (Halpern 1). Using music as treatment for psychological or physical disorders is an idea that has existed in many forms, in many cultures, and for many centuries (Marwick 267). Well, so what. Music may play a role in how a person acts or feels. But does becoming smarter by listening to this same music fall along similar lines?
Some agree and others disagree; nevertheless they are basing their beliefs on three areas: experimental data, scientific research on the brain, or personal experiences.
Among the many supporters of the Mozart Effect is the author of The Mozart Effect, Don Campbell. The Red Book magazine reports Campbell saying in his book that ‘music alters our energy patterns and affects all sorts of processes, from blood pressure and heartbeat to muscle tensions and brain waves’ (Take two? 108). The main study of importance supporting Campbell’s claim came from a study done by researchers from the University of Wisconsin. This study consisted of several college students listening to Mozart’s Sonata of two pianos in D major for 10 minutes and then taking a specialized test (Weiss D5). The results showed that the students scored better on the tests after listening to the music, giving evidence of at least a temporary boost in IQ (D5). With studies like these surfacing, there is just to much evidence in support of the Mozart Effect for it to just be thrown away, yet the evidence presented from these same studies is not strong enough to persuade all. So the controversy is now on the validity of studies like the one conducted by the researchers from the University of Wisconsin. These people in opposition believe that music has no relation with the way you think and how one may learn. The main arguments that the theory debunkers present have to do with the lack of scientific evidence the theory is currently holding its ground with.
One strong argument against the Mozart Effect is that the only study taken tested one short piece of music: 10 minutes’ worth of Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major. The study said that, after listening to the music, subjects only experienced a
temporary boost in scores (Kolata 5). So in fact the original research behind this attractive brain-altering notion said nothing about neither intelligence nor brain development. All it displayed was that a group of college students happened to do better on a battery of specialized tests shortly after listening to Mozart. Despite these claims there is still scientific research being done on music and its relationship to the mind including numerous laboratory experiments on animals and humans alike.
Shown with an Electro-encephalogram, the changes of amplitude and frequency of the brain waves are evident. Therefore there is definitely something going on in the brain when musical notes vibrate through our ears, but the question of does it make a person smarter? is still present. Other neurologic studies are showing that the brain becomes active subconsciously in response to music. In reaction to these studies some say, the brain is fundamentally programmed so that the organic connections are symphonic rather than mechanistic (Marwick 268). Meaning that by merely listening to music your brain can be better enhanced than by doing any type of physical activity.
No doubt, there are scientific studies that have been done, and are still being pursued, many people believe these studies are biased with researchers designing experiments that will favor their belief. John Bruer, president of the McDonnell Foundation, based in St. Louis, Mo., argues that ‘much of what people are hearing about how the classical music will make one smarter is based on gross exaggerations of brain science’ (Lemonick 76).
Besides all the tests and studies there are also many people that believe in the
Mozart Effect due to their own personal experiences. Hundreds of mothers claim to notice unusual movement from their unborn babies when listening to the music and say that they can really tell the baby enjoys it, even though they can’t see it yet (Weiss D5). Although this may be true, Janet DiPietro states, in the San Francisco Chronicle, [‘just because the baby moved doesn’t mean it liked it. The kicking could also have been the baby’s way of saying, Turn it off!’] (Weiss D5). Hope Rose, president and founder of the Creative Movement and Arts Center, which uses music as a backdrop for children’s movement classes, stated that classical music stimulates young children’s minds and taps into their emotions (Weiss D5). From personal experiences like these, governors such as Zell Miller from Georgia have been inspired to provide CDs to every new mother in the state (Goode 1). While, in Florida, a new law requires that toddlers in state-run schools listen to classical music every day (1). Using the opinions of highly respected people declaring that Music speaks to the entire human being, like Clive E. Robbins, PhD, director of the Nordoff-robbins Music Therapy Center at New York University, educational facilities are able to tie in the Mozart Effect into the curriculums of schools justly (Marwick 268).
Other people are convinced that there is some sort of scandal going on involving big music companies and an Austrian composer, who died in 1791. In this study, money seems to be the main motive for research. Music that will boost my IQ! Where?, is what many people are thinking after hearing some of the positive test reports according to Christopher Chabris, a Harvard neuropsychologist (Weiss D5). After doing a few
interviews with music store owners and from what he believes to be a bunch of false advertisement, Chabris has derived that [‘now thousands of people are visiting their local music stores and buying CD and tape series’] (D5). These sometimes cost up to $52.98 and promise to stimulate and inspire the mind (School Library Journal 84).
Many other, more modern bands are now taking advantage of the latest Mozart studies, claiming that music will enhance ones mind by listening to it. A band with a more 20th century sound that believes in the Mozart Effect is the Flaming Lips, from Oklahoma City. This band has more of a grungy sound than classical, playing a new type of music that is commonly referred to as anti-frantic alternative, suggests, listening to complex music improves abstract reasoning for rock fans also (Pareles E5). This may be true due to the lack of studies completed using other types of music rather than classical.
Chabris, as mentioned above, has been trying to debunk the Mozart effect for the last year, agreeing with the Flaming Lips on the idea of there being more than one type of music that has a positive impact on the way humans think. He found that after conducting more than a dozen studies on classical music and intelligence, the numbers don’t support the claim. The great European composers won’t develop your brain. He also analyzed 16 studies on the Mozart effect, involving 700 subjects (Weiss D5). He found that the music’s effects are statistically insignificant.
Some people, after listening to the classical music and taking the tests said that the music actually made them dumber (Halpern 1), claiming they got brain freeze and
that their brain was literally jammed up. This offers the assumption that not one kind of music is going to be good for everyone and that music may not even be the best way for that some people to learn or develop their minds. A man by the name of John Tesh, a guest on the Tonight Show, also addressed the question of whether classical music is the only music that will magnify the rate at which one learns. He stated on the show that ‘the problem is that if you merely say, music is good for your health, you ignore the fact that not all music is created equal and that one size does NOT fit all!’ (Halpern 2). By him asserting this question, Tesh hasn’t really proved anything, but rather pointed out a bit of gray area that researchers have yet to thoroughly explain. One person that does touch on this idea with some degree of scientific research is Kristin Nantais of the University of Toronto at Mississauga. After completing some tests of her own she reported that students did comparatively better on the tests after listening to Mozart’s music, but they did just as well after listening to other artists of different varieties of music (Kolata 1).
Other areas in which music is being used to stimulate minds and change thinking patterns is in Stroke patients and Parkinson’s disease victims. After listening to music for 30 minutes a day for 3 weeks, patients had improved their cadence, stride, and foot placement compared to patients who had not been given auditory stimulation, in view of Michael H. Thaut, Ph.D. at Colorado State University (Marwick 267). This indicates that they are learning faster than the patients who weren’t exposed to music are. These same patients also showed signs of being less depressed, less anxious, more emotionally stable,
more interactive, and more motivated to cooperate and communicate, than did a control group (Marwick 268). Women in labor are also now given the option to listen to music. Music stimulation is said to increase endorphin release and thus decreasing the need for medication. Cancer patients are also benefiting from listening to music. Studies at the Ireland Cancer Center of the University Hospitals of Cleveland, Ohio, conducted by Deforia Lane, Phd, director of music therapy, show that a person’s immune system is also affected (Marwick 268). This positive effect plays a major role in recovery (268).
With strong arguments from both the supporters of the Mozart Effect and of those trying to debunk the theory, it is hard to say which side presented the strongest points. After evaluating all of these arguments and the information presented by both sides, I believe that those in opposition of the theory delivered stronger evidence. The studies completed by Chabris and Nantais had experimental reports going into much more detail than those did from the researchers of the University of Wisconsin. The tests taken also evaluated hundreds more students and adults than that of the original data taken by the researchers from Wisconsin, which included only a handful of adults. Personally, I believe there is definitely something mystical about music that affects the way we learn.
Remembering back to the third grade, when my teacher had us listen to music as we worked in groups, is what got me thinking about the validity of the Mozart Effect. I, for one, think it is very beneficial to listen to music while learning, regardless the style. But just as with anything there are limitations. Listening to music while you are reading is not going to be as advantageous as for instance, listening to it while working some kind
of math problem. I have learned from my research that, as I mentioned earlier, there is something powerful about music that does affect the way we act, feel, and even think. Whether it is classical, rap, funk, punk, or any other of the hundreds of styles of music on the market, we are all affected in some way by listening to it.
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Kolata, Gina. Muddling Fact and Fiction and Policy. New York Times 8 Aug. 1999: 4
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Lemonick, Michael. Fast-Track Toddlers. Time July 1999: 76
Marwick, Charles. Leaving Concert Hall for Clinic, Therapists Now Test Music’s
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Weiss, Joanna Theory Debunking Mozart Effect Falling on Mostly Deaf Ears. San
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Medicine and Health Care