Does Classical Music Make Kids Smarter?
by Martha Brockenbrough
Raise your hand if you've heard that listening to Mozart can make kids smarter.
Okay, you can put your hand down now. You look a little silly waving it in the air like that. And while we're on the topic of silly things, let's talk about that "Mozart effect."
Much ado has been made about the magic of the boy-genius musician, so it's understandable that so many of us believe his brilliance can somehow buff our children's brains, centuries after his death.
Books have been written in support of this idea. A popular line of Baby Mozart videos for infants is now on many a baby-registry list. And former Georgia governor Zell Miller even set aside tax dollars so that parents of every baby born in his state would get a CD of brain-boosting classical music.
The problem is, there is no Mozart effect.
Since it was first publicized over a decade ago, scientists have deflated claims that classical music boosts brainpower.
Despite that, belief in the Mozart effect is stronger than ever--or so concluded a pair of professors at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business.
So what happened? And does music make kids smarter at all? Is it worth buying those Baby Mozart videos, just in case?
Here's where the Mozart madness began. In 1993, the journal Nature published an article by scientists at the University of California-Irvine. In their experiment, students listened to a Mozart sonata, a relaxation tape, or nothing at all for ten minutes, and then took a spatial reasoning test.
The students who listened to Mozart scored highest, an effect that lasted for 10 or 15 minutes. The researchers concluded that Mozart's music had helped. (Some later pointed out the possibility that Mozart's effect was neutral, but relaxation tapes and silence hurt the students' performance.)
From this study arose the Myth of Mozart. And it grew from there. Even though the original test had nothing to do with babies or small children, the idea stuck in the craw of our collective consciousness.
The Stanford researchers noted the media latched on to that particular Nature report more than any others published around the same time. And as it swirled around the media, people started talking about the effect on babies' intelligence, even though no research made these links.
And even after a 1999 review showed that 12 subsequent studies had failed to verify the famous 1993 one, people still believed in the magic of Mozart.
It's understandable. We all want our kids to be smart--and if something as easy as popping in a CD makes a difference, well, super!
What's more, classical music isn't as palatable to many people of parenting age as, say, the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Cake. Like spinach, it has to be good for you, right? What's more, old people listen to it!
The moral of this story: Kids should listen to classical music if they like it. But it won't make them smarter. Unless...
That's right. There's a catch. In a University of Toronto at Mississauga study, music has been shown to increase IQ points in six-year-olds who took weekly singing or piano lessons. If your kids learn to sing or play an instrument, they just might become smarter.
So you don't have to turn your back on Mozart, after all. Kids just have to work hard to learn to play or sing his music for it to actually boost their little brains.