The Mozart Effect: Fact vs. Fiction

The Mozart Effect suggests that there is a temporary increase in performance on spatial relations tasks following exposure to classical music.  The original authors of the study employed the scientific method; however they did so with the prestige of the University of California (Irvine) to lend authority.  (Jones, 2003)  The study is empirical in that it involves collection of some kind of “objective” data, although it appears as though subsequent attempts to reproduce the results have done a better job of falsifying the data than confirming it.  It is testable, particularly by the Stanford-Binet spatial subtest (SB5).  The SB5 was normalized on over 4800 individuals, subject to bias reviews on a number of different variables, and was co-normed with another test.  (Nelson Education, 2003)  It is an extensively used and widely available test; some might consider the SB5 “the gold standard.”  The initial suggestion that the general increase in spatial-temporal intelligence (the ability to mentally manipulate objects in three-dimensional space) was parsimoniously attributed to the “warming-up” of neural transmitters inside the cerebral cortex, although that basic research can be considered little more than tentative due to the inability of subsequent studies to reproduce similar effects.  We might also suggest that the research was less than rigorously tested due to the absence of an independent control group in several studies.  Parsimonious is probably not a word I would use to describe this study.

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In discussing this study with friends, I would probably suggest that they be wary of drawing conclusions until additional research is rendered.  There seems to be support for the suggestion that listening to Mozart does not directly increase spatial performance.  However, we might deduce that decreased arousal may be directly related poorer performance.  A negative correlation does not necessarily support a positive one.  (Jones & Estell, 2007)  Even this conclusion is tentative however, due to the fact that generalization is limited to high school students.

For all you music lovers out there, or those of you that are absolutely adamant that music has value… I wouldn’t minimize the impact music has on our lives.  I personally consider in my “top 3” motivating forces in my life… the bad days can be intolerable without a tune or a melody.  One study, for example, found that “listeners’ emotional responses to music parallel their perceptions of the emotions conveyed by music, that emotional responses are typically relatively subtle compared to perceptions, that emotional responses are mediated by listeners’ perceptions, that music can elicit mixed feelings and perceptions, and that changes in tempo and mode are sufficient to produce these effects.”  (Hunter, Schellenberg, & Schimmack, 2010, p. 55)  It may stand to reason that if emotions have an effect on the learning process, and music has an effect on emotions, then music may have an effect on the learning process.  However, I do not suggest that this translates into a higher IQ.  Instead, it may constitute a more focused participant ‘if’ those individuals’ perceptions allow.  Higher IQ or not, music has value… the task is to find the causal relationship.

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Hunter, P. G., Schellenberg, G. E., & Schimmack, U. (2010, Feb). Feelings and perceptions of happiness and sadness induced by music: Similarities, differences, and mixed emotions. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 4(1), 47-56. doi: 10.1037/a0016873

Jones, M. (2003). The mozart effect. Retrieved from

Jones, M. H., & Estell, D. B. (2007, Nov). Exploring the Mozart effect among high school students. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 1(4), 219-224. doi: 10.1037/1931-3896.1.4.219

Nelson Education. (2003). Stanford-binet intelligence scales. fifth edition (SB5). Retrieved June 9, 2010, from

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