The Mozart Effect: Does It Really Make Us Smarter?

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Does listening to classical music improve one's intelligence?

Does it help people gain different perspectives and process information easier, in a deeper layer? 

Is this phenomenon, which we have always heard was an urban legend, really true?

Here, we will explore the psychological phenomenon called "The Mozart Effect" in every angle.

Take a cup of coffee or tea and get ready for a long journey of psychology, accompanied by music!

1. Who is Mozart?

Yeah, almost everybody knows Mozart, but let us make a short introduction anyways. The musician, whose full name is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was born in 1756, in Austria. He could play the piano when he was 3; wrote his first symphony when he was 8; and completed his first opera when he was 12.

The composer, who passed away in 1791 when he was only 35 years old, left behind 625 works of art! These many accomplishment in that short life made him uniquely famous.

2. Mozart and Psychology

The Turkish March and 40th symphony are two of the top most popular and well liked works of his. Such a musical genius, he has not only inspired classical music lovers, but also many others working in various areas. Psychology is one of the science branches that conduct studies based on this inspiration.

3. Classical music and human psychology

Classical music has its roots in Europe. Although it couldn't become as wide-spread as the folk music in the East, for a long time it has been believed to have positive effects on human psychology and has become a genre that many music lovers from all over the world enjoy.

Psychology, being the branch of science that investigates human behavior, has naturally paid close attention to the possible effects of music. However, the effects of classical music have been investigated way more often than any other genre. Scientists have studied how classical music effects humans, animals, plants and other living creatures. The research and experiments have yielded many results, including some extreme-sounding ones, such as "Classical music increases the milk production in cows" and "...speeds the growth of plants."

One of the most well-known results of the studies about classical music is that the babies who listen to classical music starting from conception turn out to be smarter, which takes us to The Mozart Effect.

4. What is the Mozart Effect?

In its simplest form, the effect that classical music has on humans and other living things is called "The Mozart Effect.The music by Mozart is the focus point of this kind of research. Undoubtedly, what makes his music so popular in psychological studies has a lot to do with the fact that he had a rather juvenile point of view and that it stirs positive feelings such as love, joy, excitement, etc.

5. How did this notion come about?

Although classical music dates back to pre-historic times, it evolved into what we know today, including its instruments in the Renaissance. Having such a long history and such a wide variety of examples, it is only natural that it has been the subject of many studies.

6. Why Mozart?

The theory about the effect of classical music on intelligence put forward by Alfred A. Tomatis in 1991 in his book "Pourquoi Mozart" (Why Mozart?), was developed by Frances Rauscher and his friends two years later.

Rauscher and his friends found out that the subjects' cognition improved after the first 15 minutes of listening to a sonnet by Mozart.

7. The studies of Rauscher and his friends

A study by these guys, which was published in the magazine called Nature in 1993, attracted great attention. 36 college students listened to the piano sonnet (K.448) for 10 minutes, which was composed for two pianos by Mozart. After these 10 minutes, they scored 8-9 points higher on the Stanford-Binet IQ Test; both in the spatial-temporal and paper folding and cutting sections. This is clear evidence that music boosts the brain's spatial processing performance.

8. Does classical music develop intelligence?

To give you more details about the study mentioned above, the participants were divided into three groups. One group listened to Mozart's sonnet, the second one listened to mystical music, and the last group didn't listen to any music at all. Later, the groups took the test that measures spatial cognition. The first group, who listened to Mozart, scored the best in this test, which led the researchers to conclude that "Classical music increases cognitive skills."

The unfortunate misconception that Rauscher and his friends had: "This increase in cognition equals to 8-10 IQ points" created the false belief that "Classical music makes you smarter."

Actually, it doesn't increase the overall IQ directly, it just boosts the audio and spatial skills. Classical music is soothing for one's soul, which understandably leads one to feel better and more peaceful. However, when we look at this sonnet by Mozart, we see that it has high frequency. As we know, while our brain waves are at the lowest  frequency while sleeping, once we start learning and concentrating, the frequency increases. Maybe this whole thing is as simple as that?

9. What does the Mozart Effect do?

Although it was never really proven, the Mozart Effect was all over the newspapers. The questions like "Will babies be smarter?", "Should pregnant women put music on their bellies?", "Will you be more successful if you listen to K.448 before exams?" started appearing everywhere.

The media made this finding a bigger and bigger deal. There were headlines such as "Classical music increases IQ by 10 points," then the toy industry saw the opportunity. The families could easily make their children listen to Mozart to make them smarter, and they didn't have to pay a lot for that. 

Millions of CDs were sold with the name 'Mozart Effect', which reinforced the misconception even further among the public. Some of these CDs had names such as "Mozart for Parents," "Mozart to Boost Your Infant's IQ," etc. It went so far that in some of the states in USA, the CDs were distributed to parents free of charge.

10. Mozart Effect in epilepsy, Alzheimer's and mental illnesses

As the Mozart  Effect became more popular, other researches decided to study it more in depth. Following studies yielded similar results to the initial one. Classical music does indeed enhance cognitive performance at the moment, but it lasts a maximum of half an hour, just like the first study showed.

In 1998, it was observed that  Alzheimer's patients' spatial-temporal perception improved when they listened to Mozart. This was experimented on epilepsy patients: those who listened to K.448 had fewer seizures.

John Hughes, a neurologist and expert in epilepsy at Illinois University's medicine school, thinks that Mozart's music gives the best results in the treatment of epilepsy. 

Moreover, it is a well known practice that doctors make use of Mozart's therapeutic power in their clinical studies. Even today, in many parts of the world, the Mozart Effect is considered the cure for mental illnesses.

11. Primitive communities and Mozart

A group of French scholars made an expedition to Africa. Their aim was to introduce the primitive communities to the classical western music and observe their reactions.They managed to play Mozart for a primitive group without having to go near them. These people listened to Mozart carefully, but calmly. When they played some Beethoven, however, the people got furious and acted aggressively.

12. Mozart Effect in plants and animals

Some researches, thinking that the reason for plants to blossom and grow in the morning could be the birds' singing, played different genres of music for the plants.

There are also studies investigating milk production in cows and the increase in number of the eggs chickens lay. The results are parallel: classical music has the most desired effect, but Mozart's music also scores better among other classical music pieces.

Another experiment showed that the mice that listened to Mozart found their way in the maze easier; and that classical music also helped Alzheimer's patients get back to lucidity. 

These kinds of studies reinforced the perception that classical music has positive psychological effects in humans and added to the concept of the Mozart Effect. However, most of the claims about the benefits of Mozart's music are based on personal stories.

13. Mozart instead of psychothearpy

The Parisian painter Katia Eliard thinks that listening to Mozart regularly for 8 months was way more beneficial than 10 years of psychotherapy. The founder of the psychiatry clinic where Eliard was treated, Doctor Alfred Tomatis, argues that mental illnesses seen in children and adult  depression can be treated with Mozart's music.

Although traditional music therapists don't agree with the methods of Tomatis, children who suffer from learning difficulties in Poland are treated with these very methods.

14. Mozart for learning difficulties and hyperactivity

Jackie Hindley, who lives in Richmond, London, states that her 6-year old son Lawrence benefited a lot from this method. Lawrence, who had learning problems and hyperactivity, started participating in conversation more actively and reacting to what others say after a couple of Mozart therapy sessions.

15. How does classical music enhance cognitive skills?

Although classical music doesn't increase overall IQ, it does boost some cognitive functions, which is pretty important. But how? Researchers have observed that not every classical music piece has this effect, but only those that emotionally moves people.

For example, depressive classical music pieces or "relaxation" songs do not have the same impact, which means that classical music works this way just because it is classical music; but some pieces have this short-term effect on people because they somehow "move" people.

Such pieces boost the cognitive functions by keeping the brain awake; and similar works have similar effect.

16. Conclusion:

All in all, the premise "Classical music makes people smarter" is completely false. However, don't misunderstand it, it doesn't mean that classical music is bad, it just means that you can't trick your way into being a genius by listening to classical music. 

If you want your child to have both high IQ and EQ, you have to constantly interact with them, provide them with opportunities to explore and discover and improve their awareness of self-value. 

Latest  scientific research shows that when people listens to music, many different areas in their brain are activated. However, there is still no clear understanding about why some music pieces stimulate the brain more than others.

Rauscher is both amazed by the latest developments and also says that his findings were misinterpreted and misunderstood. He states that he never said that there was a permanent increase in the IQs of the students who listened to Mozart, but what he said was spatial cognition of those students was enhanced temporarily.


Here is a bonus video of an experiment on Mozart Effect. In this experiment, it is observed that subjects who listen to Mozart solve problems and react faster. The idea is that the brain, without us being aware of it, adapts to the sophisticated structure of Mozart's music.

17. Mozart Symphony #40 in G Minor, K 550 - 1. Molto Allegro

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