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The "Mozart Effect": Does Listening to Classical Music Really Make Kids Smarter?

Play classical music for your baby, your toddler and even your "bun in the oven" and your child will grow up to be more intelligent.

This widely circulated advice, dubbed the "Mozart Effect," has become a mantra for many new parents. And its premise has spurred the creation of an entire line of CDs, DVDs, books and other media all based on the topic of how to make your kids smarter by having them listen to classical music.

Mozart Effect

The "Mozart Effect" -- the idea that playing classical music will make your baby smarter -- is based on a study of college students.

Where did the "Mozart Effect" begin?

In 1993, psychologist Frances Rauscher published a study in the journal Nature (Nature. 1993 Oct 14;365(6447)) titled "Music and Spatial Task Performance."

The study involved 36 college students who listened to 10 minutes of a Mozart sonata, a relaxation track or silence, then were asked to complete several spatial reasoning tasks (such as determining what a folded paper that was cut would look like when it was unfolded).

The students who had listened to Mozart showed significant improvement (about eight to nine spatial IQ points) in their performance of some of the tasks.

From this study, the "Mozart Effect" was born, and media coverage touting the benefits of classical music, not just for college students, but for babies, children and fetuses, began.

Is the "Mozart Effect" All Hype?

A 1999 review of numerous subsequent studies found that none could verify the findings of the original 1993 study, according to a report by Stanford University, which attempted to explain why this study was singled out, and why the finding became so popular.

In fact, after the "Mozart Effect" became widely publicized (Stanford researchers found that "Music and Spatial Task Performance" was cited in the top 50 U.S. newspapers 8.3 times more than the second-most popular paper at that time) several states passed laws that required state-subsidized childcare centers to play classical music. Others passed laws to give all new mothers a classical music CD in the hospital after giving birth.

The Stanford researchers theorized that the study appealed to people's anxieties and obsessions with their child's education.

Fun Classical Music for Kids

Most kids love music, and classical is no exception. The following CDs are an ideal mix of fun, culture and inspiration to introduce your children to classical music.

The Mozart Effect Music for Children, Volume 2: Relax, Daydream, & Draw
Carnival of the Animals: Classical Music for Kids
Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf: With a Fully-Orchestrated and Narrated CD
Beethoven for Babies

"It seems to be a circumscribed manifestation of a widespread, older belief that has been labeled 'infant determinism,' the idea that a critical period early in development has irreversible consequences for the rest of a child's life," the Stanford researchers said. "It is also anchored in older beliefs in the beneficial powers of music."

Even the study's original author, Frances Rauscher, now an associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, seems to believe the study's results were blown out of proportion.

"I would simply say that there is no compelling evidence that children who listen to classical music are going to have any improvement in cognitive abilities," Rauscher said in Scientific American. "It's really a myth, in my humble opinion."

Classical Music DOES Have Benefits

Classical music, it seems, may not turn your child into a genius, but it does have many proven benefits.

Among them is a positive influence on crime. In London, England, when the British Transport Police piped classical music into London Underground stations in some of the area's most dangerous neighborhoods for six months, they found that:

  • Robberies were cut by 33 percent

  • Staff assaults decreased by 25 percent

  • Vandalism went down 37 percent

Soothing music like classical is also known to reduce stress and anxiety. One hospital study even found that heart patients received the same anti-anxiety benefits from listening to 30 minutes of classical music as they did from taking the drug Valium.

Music in general is also known to be beneficial. According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy can be used to help:

  • Children, adolescents, adults and the elderly with mental health needs, developmental and learning disabilities

  • Alzheimer's disease and other age-related conditions

  • Substance abuse problems

  • Brain injuries

  • Physical disabilities

  • Acute and chronic pain, including mothers in labor

So while the effects on intelligence are still up in the air, it does seem that playing some classical music for your child could be a way to help them relieve stress, feel more calm and just have some pure, simple enjoyment.

Why not test out the potential benefits in your own home, and see if you or your child notices a difference?

Recommended Reading

New Study Confirms It: Music is a Must for Your Good Health ... and Your Brain

How Singing Improves Your Health (Even if Other People Shouldn't Hear You Singing)

Sources September 13, 2007

Stanford Report February 2, 2005

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