Imagine a world in which you simply played a tune for your baby and they automatically became more intelligent just by listening to it. Wouldn't it be awesome if you could just download a bit of Beethoven or Mozart from iTunes, plug in your ipod and get better test scores? It would be fantastic wouldn't it? That's why hundreds of thousands of parents around the world do exactly that with products like 'Baby Mozart'. They spend millions on these products and what is known as the Mozart Effect trying to give their kids every advantage in life. Unfortunately, genius though he may have been, Mozart can't make you smarter.
The Mozart Effect was introduced to the world in the form of an article from the journal 'Nature'. In this article, it was reported that "...college students who listened to about ten minutes of a Mozart piano sonata showed a significant improvement on spatial reasoning tasks compared with a group of students who listened to a relaxation tape." This 1993 study seemed to show that intelligence could be improved by simply listening to classical music. Though it was difficult to replicate by other researchers, and it never claimed to improve spatial reasoning over the long term, the Mozart Effect was utilized as justification for companies to sell Mozart CDs to families with infants.
Later research would suggest that short-term mental arousal could explain the Mozart Effect. This would explain why individuals listening to music that they themselves enjoy (whether it be Mozart or not) feel more alert versus those that are not listening to anything. Perhaps you feel more alert after reading a story that makes you feel excited or after watching a thrilling movie. Any such activities could potentially improve short-term spatial ability, though not your intelligence.
So, Mozart may well make you feel a bit smarter and can certainly make you a little more alert for a very short space of time (if you like that sort of thing) but, trust me, you are as dopey as you ever were. If you are a parent who has bought into the Mozart Effect you may even be slightly more dopey than you thought you were!
The Mozart effect is an example of how science and the media mix in our world. A suggestion in a few paragraphs in a scientific journal becomes a universal truth in a matter of months, eventually believed even by the scientists who initially recognized how their work had been distorted and exaggerated by the media. Others, smelling the money, jump on the bandwagon and play to the crowd, adding their own myths, questionable claims, and distortions to the mix. In this case, many uncritical supporters line up to defend the faith because at stake here is the future of our children. We then have books, tapes, CDs, institutes, government programs, etc. Soon the myth is believed by millions as a scientific fact. In this case, the process met with little critical resistance because we already know that music can affect feelings and moods, so why shouldn't it affect intelligence and health, even if only slightly and temporarily? It's just commonsense, right? Yes, and all the more reason to be skeptical.