Can listening to Mozart’s Symphony Number 40 or Beethoven’s Ode to Joy make your baby smarter? Does playing classical music to babies make a difference? It has become trendy for new mothers to play classical music in the hopes that it would stimulate their babies’ brains and improve intellectual development, in particular, boosting their babies’ IQ’s. Some parents even play classical music to their babies in utero; you may have seen the photos of the headphones attached to a pregnant woman’s abdomen. This phenomenon is known as the ‘Mozart Effect’. Over the past 20 years, until recently, it was widely believed that playing classical music to babies helped build neural bridges among pathways in the brain. It was also suggested that classical music stimulated alpha waves in the brain which creates a sense of calm.
What is the Mozart Effect?
The Mozart Effect is the belief that listening to classical music while a woman is pregnant or during a child’s earliest years will make the baby smarter. The term ’Mozart Effect’ was first coined by Alfred A. Tomatisin in a 1991 book that explored 30 years of research on Mozart’s music and its effects on students with learning disabilities. The term was then popularized after a 1993 study by Rauscher, Shaw and Ky was published in Nature; the experiment examined the effect of listening to Mozart’s music on a person’s spatial reasoning ability. They compared the results of college students under three different listening conditions: listening to a Mozart sonata, listening to repetitive relaxation music and the third condition was silence. They found a temporary (about 15 minutes) improvement on three subtests of the Stanford-Binet IQ test that measured spatial-temporal reasoning. However, the media picked up on this study and reported that it made people smarter (perhaps because the subtests were from a standardized IQ test?) despite it being a temporary effect and in just one area. This effect was generalized to children and a popular trend was born among mothers who wanted to give their babies any advantage that they could.
Wikipedia now defines the Mozart Effect as,” A set of research results that indicate that listening to Mozart’s music may induce a short-term improvement on the performance of certain kinds of mental tasks known as spatial-temporal reasoning.” Spatial temporal reasoning is the ability to visualize spatial patterns and manipulate them mentally. This ability relates to multistep problem solving in the areas of math and science as well as in art and games.
Is the Mozart Effect Real?
Although Rauscher et al demonstrated only an increase in spatial-temporal reasoning, the results were misperceived as an increase in general IQ. Several studies in the past 5 years have debunked the myth of the Mozart Effect as it relates to increasing intelligence. The bottom line is that there is no causal link between listening to classical music and higher IQ. Some recent articles suggest that the short term improvement seen in spatial reasoning abilities right after listening to Mozart might be a good way to “prime” the brain before engaging in a problem solving task that requires those abilities (math, science, engineering, architecture, etc).
However, music has been shown to calm babies. Listening to classical music may soothe your baby and possibly turn him or her into a classical music aficionado later in life, but it won’t make your baby smarter.
Should babies be listening to classical music?
So why should your baby listen to classical music if the Mozart Effect is not real? The study demonstrated that spatial reasoning skills were increased in the short term but not in the long term. However there can be some long term benefits; if a child learns to love classical music he or she may be more apt to want to pick up a musical instrument to learn to play. Studies have shown that there are long term benefits to intelligence from actively learning to play an instrument due to the pattern recognition and the differentiation skills involved. Rhythm and beats, for example, are based in ratios and proportions as well as part-to-whole learning. These are essential skills necessary for other types of learning that are reflected in general intellectual ability.
Furthermore, children need to explore all their senses- auditory, visual, touch, smell and taste- at an early age in order to make strong connections for learning in those modes. If parents introduce their baby or young child to music, classical or otherwise, they help the child strengthen the auditory mode for future learning as well as current learning. Lastly, as any parent of a baby knows, anything that can calm a fussy baby is worth trying.