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Biology 103
2003 First Paper
On Serendip

The Mozart Effect

Margaret Tucker

Ever since human intelligence has been a factor for survival, people have been trying to think of new, innovative ways to increase their mental capabilities. In the past, people have taken pills, prepared home-made concoctions, and have even shaven their heads to clear their minds. Even now, new ideas, such as magnetic mattresses for better blood circulation to the brain, are patented and sold promising mental wellness and stability and making money for the inventor. When scientists find something that enhances intelligence the general public is interested.

This is perhaps why a small study out of the University of California, Irvine procured so much attention. In 1993 Gordon Shaw, a physicist, and Frances Rauscher, a former concert cellist and an expert on cognitive development, studied the effects the Mozart Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major had on a few dozen college students. They performed this study to see whether "brief exposure to certain music could increase a cognitive ability" (3). They study took thirty-six college students and divided them up into three groups. Each group spent ten minutes listening to different sounds: the first group listened to the afore mentioned Mozart sonata, the second group listened to a tape of relaxation instructions and the third group sat in silence. Directly following these ten minutes the students were tested on spatial/temporal reasoning (more specifically the Stanford-Binet Test). Simply put, the "subject has to imagine that a single sheet of paper has been folded several times and then various cut-outs are made with scissors" (3). The object for the students is to correctly guess the pattern of cut-outs if the paper were unfolded.

In the end, the scores of the group that was listening to Mozart were significantly higher then those of the other two groups. The Mozart group had an average eight to nine points higher when the tests were translated into spatial IQ scores. They also found, however, that this affect lasted for only ten to fifteen minutes. The scientists concluded that the "benefits to special/temporal reasoning would require complex rather than repetitive music," however, did not go as far as to say that this music must be that of Mozart. They also made it clear that these findings were indeed isolated to the special/temporal realm and did not translate to other areas of intelligence such as verbal reasoning or short-term memory.

This was indeed a fairly informal study, performed on a mere thirty-six people a small group from which to make "less wrong" conclusions based on observations. This, however, did not seem to matter to the general public. In 1993, when this study was written up in Nature both the media and the general population couldn't believe it. This was an easy, inexpensive way to increase your intelligence; and it was "proven". The concept exploded. Soon there were products on the market. CDs with titles like "Mozart for Meditaion" and "Mozart for the Mind" could be found at any major CD retailer. There was a significant jump in the amount of Mozart played by orchestras. In a couple of years the assumption was made that if the Mozart Effect worked on adults than it stands to reason that it would help babies as well. A toy company produces a teddy bear whose stomach played Mozart quietly to help a baby sleep. Former Georgia Governor actually requested 105,000 dollars to five classical-music compact discs to parents of all newborns in the state. There was a true surge in Mozart popularity as people began more and more to believe in this small study out of the University of California.

Two years later in 1995 Rauscher and Shaw once again performed another test almost exactly the same as the one performed in 1993. This time there were more than twice as many subjects 79 college students. The test was also longer, lasting a total of five days. The setup was mostly the same: the larger group was slip up into three smaller groups. The first group listened to Mozart, the second listened to something new every day (e.g. minimalist music, reading, and dance music), and the third group once again sat in silence. On the first day of listening the outcome was similar to that of the first study. The Mozart group performed better than the others. The next four days, however, the scores were quite even. Despite this obvious flaw in the outcome, both the media and the general public wouldn't be swayed from their beliefs in the Mozart Effect.

It wasn't until 1999 that another large study on the Mozart Effect was done. This time Christopher F. Chabris used 714 subjects and compared silence to listening to Mozart. After ten minutes of listening to Mozart the subjects were given tests that can either be classified as abstract reasoning or spatial/temporal reasoning. There were no differences in the abstract reasoning portion of the test and the Mozart group performed slightly higher than the silent group on the spatial/temporal section. These numbers and differences, however, when taken from such a large group were irrelevant. "Exposure to ten minutes of Mozart's music does not seem to enhance general intelligence or reasoning, although it may exert a small improving effect on the ability to transform visual images" (4). Also, within these relatively insignificant numbers it also appeared that the enhancement was essentially restricted to a single task. Two other experiments performed around this same time also support these findings, and offer new insights. The first of these two found that listening to Mozart or to a passage from a Stephen King book increased the subjects' performance in the spatial/temporal reasoning, "but only for those who enjoyed what they heard" (4). The second, like the first, showed that enjoyment also was a major factor in the increases seen. This study took 8,120 British schoolchildren performed better when they listened to popular, hip-hop music compared to Mozart. Needless to say, the results began showing a very different trend when these other factors were added in.

Almost a decade after the first study was released, Chabris' counter argument was heard. Frances Rauscher said to her defense "that many researchers who tried to repeat the experiment failed because they measured the effect on general intelligence instead of on spatial/temporal abilities, or the ability to identify various shapes" (1). However, as years go by, more and more studies like Chabris' are coming out, and they are having similar results to Chabris'. "'It's really not a mystery,' said University of Toronto psychologist Gabriela Husain. 'Music affects how energetic and happy people feel. And it's well known that people who feel vigorous and in a good mood score better on test'" (6). These sentiments are now widely shared by the media and the general pubic. The new inventions centered around Mozart's music are becoming more scarce, and it's much harder to find "Mozart for the LSATs" at an average CD retailer. After spending almost a decade in the spot light, The Mozart Effect is beginning to loose ground, and will soon be replaced by a new study proving that skittles stimulate the right-frontal lobe and every parent will be happy to give their kids some candy.



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