The Mozart Effect

There seems to be a current trend of playing classical music to babies in utero, and an associated array of available albums targeted specifically at this purpose. It all relates to the idea that playing classical music for your baby will somehow increase their future IQ, known as “The Mozart Effect”.

The moral here is the old one: If something sounds to good to be true, it probably is.

The notion of the Mozart Effect originated in 1993, when a group of scientists conducted an experiment in which students, having already taken a spatial IQ test, were then randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first group listened to a Mozart sonata for ten minutes, the second group to a ten minute “relaxation tape” and the third to ten minutes of silence before repeating the spatial test. The students in the Mozart group scored an average of 8-9 points higher in the second test. Two years later the same group of researchers repeated a similar test with a larger group of subjects and achieved similar results.

The problems, however, are multiple. For starters the effect was transient, lasting really only as long as it took to take the test. Secondly, many other research groups have failed to replicate the findings in similar and larger studies, and a systematic review of multiple studies found no true correlation between listening to Mozart and increased IQ. One 1995 study even investigated past musical exposure and found no correlation between higher spatial IQ scores and music lessons earlier in life, or a preference for classical music. Which brings up the most important consideration: the effect has not been tested on infants at all, nevermind on unborn ones! Regardless of whether the “Mozart Effect” as tested in these studies actually turns out, with further investigation, to exist, it doesn’t mean it will necessarily apply to babies in utero.

And for the moment, at least, it’s still pseudo-science which appears to have been adopted by businesses as a way to market yet more unnecessary gimmicks to parents (after all, if you wish to listen to classical music you can do so for free on the radio, or purchase your own collection much more cheaply than by buying albums branded for babies) and by the media as another way to make parents to be feel like they don’t measure up if they’ve failed to do it.

I do enjoy listening to classical music and it certainly relaxes me. I do think that a more relaxed mummy with less adrenaline coursing around her system cannot be a bad thing for the baby, so I do value it in that respect. But I won’t be relying on Mozart or any other other composer to smarten my child up or in any other way directly influence their development. And I won’t feel guilty if I elect to listen to more rock, pop or dance music than classical!


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