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The Mozart Effect: Fact or Fiction?

Allyson Wozniak

TSEM: Mozart, the Man, the Myth, and the Music

November 10, 2015

The Mozart Effect: Fact or Fiction?

The Mozart Effect is a widely talked about miracle where

increased spatial abilities have been reported after listening to

Mozarts music. Research on Mozarts music began in France in the late

1950s by Dr. Alfred Tomatis. By 1990 there were hundreds of centers

throughout the world to help children with disabilities such as dyslexia,

speech disorders, and autism. This is also when experiments began at

the University of California with Mozarts music to examine spatial


Mozart wrote over six hundred major compositions over his

lifetime. Music written by Mozart is structural 1 and not too overly

emotional2 and these qualities help clarify time and space perception.

The music is not over-stimulating3and the organization of his pieces

(rondo form, sonata allegro form, and variation form) are basic ways in

which the brain develops and becomes familiar with ideas. The Mozart

effect is a widely studied subject among many music and psychological

scholars. Many studies that have been conducted have partly

supported that the Mozart effect does heighten spatial and cognitive

reasoning. However a more specific justification for the heightened

1 "Frequently Asked Questions." Frequently Asked Questions. Accessed November

13, 2015.

2 "Frequently Asked Questions."

3 "Frequently Asked Questions."

spatial and cognitive reasoning is explained throughout several

experiments. To first begin to explain, we must keep in mind how music

effects brain function.

Music has been apart of society through out all of history. Music

is one of the basic actions of humans. Music has clearly been seen to

be helpful to people in many ways. Thomas Jefferson, an important

historical figure in American history, used his skills of the violin to help
him write the Declaration of Independence. When he couldnt figure

out wording for a certain part, he would take a break and play his


Music is thought to link all of the emotional, spiritual, and

physical elements of the world. Another one of musics strengthening

qualities involves emotions. It causes physical and emotional

responses in people. This is also effected by the amount of musical

knowledge that a person has. A novice musician might hear or feel a

musical piece performed totally different way than a musical beginner.

This is a factor one must consider when thinking about the Mozart

effect. Another factor to consider is how the body processes rhythm.

Rhythm naturally occurs in the body through functions like heart beat,

breathing patterns, walking and more. With out rhythm, music is non-

existent. The world would only experience a bunch of noise with out
4 Music and the Brain, Laurence ODonnell, Last accessed December 6, 2015
5 Music and the Brain
rhythm. Just as rhythm organizes music, it also organizes the human
body which allows ones brain to organize patterns more efficiently.

Often times people think of the Mozart effect and think of an

increase in I.Q. after listening to Mozarts music. This theory has since

been debunked from the time of the introduction of the Mozart effect in

1993 by researcher Frances Rauscher. A pair of studies conducted by

Harvard Graduate School of Education doctoral student Samuel Mehr

found that music training had no effect on the cognitive abilities of

young children.7 Mehr terminated the findings that Glenn Shellenberg

where a 2.7 percent IQ increase occurred. Even though this research

has found that music doesnt have an effect on cognitive and spatial

abilities, many other studies have shown that Mozarts music as well as

others music can effect the cognitive and spatial functioning abilities

in children and adults of all ages.

Researchers have found that the Mozart Effect most likely has

to do with the enjoyment arousal. In a study involving groups of pre-

school aged students who were given keyboard lessons for six months,

all students were able to perform simple melodies by the children

towards the end of the experiment. They then were tested in spatial

reasoning and on average their performance was 30% times better

than children given computer lessons for six months. This was

6 Music and the Brain

7 Lynn Helding, In the shadow of the Mozart Effect, Journal of Singing vol 70, No. 5
(June 2014) 600
attributed to the length of exposure and the plasticity of a younger

childs brain.

This hypothesis that the Mozart Effect is actually an effect of

enjoyment arousal is also supported in an experiment talked about in

The Journal of Instructional Psychology. 8 In this experiment 38

individuals selected were tested using a video game called Tony Hawk:

Pro Skater 3. While individually playing this game the participants were

told to play for the allotted time and to try to score as high as possible.

At random, some subjects were listening to either the Red Hot Chili

Peppers while playing or they were listening to Mozart. At the end of

the experiment the participants filled out a scale concerning their

music preferences. This would help conclude that there is a positive

correlation between listening to music one enjoys and scoring higher

on the performed task at hand. This experiment shows that not

necessarily listening to Mozart specifically will increase the spatial

skills required to complete certain tasks, but that listening to music

that one enjoys, to increase levels of happiness will lead to a better

outcome than listening to no music or music that one does not enjoy.

A set of three correlating experiments completed to help further

determine this question of fact or fiction" with the function of

cognitive performance. It is said that listening to affect-matching music

8 Hope Daniels Cassity, Tracy B. Henely, Robert P. Markley, The Mozart Effect:
Musical Phenomenon or Musical Preference? A More Ecologically Valid
Reconsideration Journal of Instructional Psychology vol. 34. No. 1
advance improvements in cognitive performance. In these experiments

we use the term affect-matching music to refer to congruence

between, on the one hand, and on the other, the listeners current

affective state. 9 Emotions and music are related quite closely. A

musician often expresses his/her emotions through pieces of musical

literature that they are performing. In western culture, people have

been trained to view pieces in a minor key as sad or mundane and

major keyed pieces as happy or majestic. In psychology, Lisa

Barretts model of emotion shows that categories of emotion are the

result of a process in which people conceptualize their experiences of

core affect, a term that refers to ongoing changes in feelings of

pleasure or displeasure and activation or deactivation.

In the first experiment conducted in this study, its goal was to

test the affect-matching hypothesis with a subject group of adults. In

this experiment, the moods of adults were classified and two groups,

angry and happy, were chosen. It was predicted that people exposed

to affect-matching music, would show cognitive performance benefits

and people exposed to mood-mismatching musical conditions may

perform worse. In the experiment, the participants were set at a

computer and numbers popped up on the screen. The participants

were to recall the number that they saw on the computer screen. The

results somewhat supported the original hypothesis. Cognitive

9 The Mozart Effect: Musical Phenomenon or Musical Preference?

10 The Mozart Effect: Musical Phenomenon or Musical Preference?
performance was inhibited in the mood and music matching conditions

and when the music and the mood did not match there was a tendency

for the performance of the participants to decline. There was how ever

one stipulation to these results, only women showed this effect.

In the second experiment the same hypothesis as the previous

experiment was used but with pre-school aged children. This was

tested as well because of the gender-socialization that takes place in

society where women are taught to express their emotions more

openly and men are taught to be tough and keep their feelings to their

self. The experimenters believed that if this is the case then gender

might not have an effect on younger children. These younger children

were tested on their cognitive abilities using a matching game that

depicts fruit cards. The children were then given video clips to watch,

one to increase happiness and one to increase their levels of anger.

They then completed the matching game while listening to music that

matched the mood of the video that they were shown. This

experiments showed that school aged children began to show a trend

of improved cognitive function performance after being exposed to the

affect-matching music.

Tempo seems to be one of the first things that children use to

recognize emotion in music. In experiment three, it was hypothesized

that the children would recognize the tempo difference and would

allow the experimenters to reveal affect matching on cognitive

performance in young children. The procedure remained mostly the

same as in experiment number 2 except they were exposed to a new

piece of happy music at the end of the memory game to conclude the

session on a positive note. This experiment was successful in showing

gender-independent matching in young children and the experiment

was only successful when the mood and the music were in congruent


These experiments have shown that not necessarily listening to

Mozart will effect cognitive and spatial functioning but listening to

music that matches the mood that someone is in will benefit their

cognitive abilities. This shows that it is more about the enjoyment or

pleasure arousal that transpires when listening to music qthat

improves brain function than just the music by it self. Music strongly

influences the power of memory and learning. Mozarts music and

baroque music in general, with sixty beats per minute pattern activate

both sides of the brain; the left and the right. The simultaneous

lighting up of the brains while listening to music maximizes learning

and retention of information. Also, participating in general musical

activities is something that causes the brain to become more capable

of processing information. In 1982, researchers from the University of

North Texas performed a test on postgraduate students. This study was

conducted to see if music could help the students remember

vocabulary words. The students were split into three groups. Each

group was given a pretest, posttest, and a test a week after the first

two tests. The groups listened to Georg Handels Water Music except

for group three. Group three received no music to listen too. The

results showed that groups one and two, which both had music, did

better at the memorizing than group three, the group with no music.

Music may not simply guarantee complete recall, but music can

improve memorization skills.

The findings of all of the experiments talked about have shown

that the Mozart effect is a widely researched topic where research has

proven that the Mozart effect is party real. Listening to Mozarts music

has shown to improve cognitive and spatial functioning and reasoning.

Said by Gordon Shaw:

We have this common internal neural language that were born with and so if you

can exploit that with the right stimuli then youre going to help the brain develop to

do the things like reason.12

Listening to Mozarts music doesnt increase general intelligence or IQ,

studying and listening to music for long periods of time will produce

benefits with long-term effects as well as listening to music that

increases levels of emotion will help people with spatial and cognitive

thinking such as learning and memorization skills.

11 Music and the Brain

12 "MozartEffect."MozartEffect.AccessedNovember13,2015.