Debunking the Mozart Effect

We are parents of two kids, 6 and 8, and our closest friends have kids the exact same ages. These friends swear that they can increase their children’s IQ by playing certain kinds of music. I think they’re full of it. But could they possibly be right? Does music actually increase a child’s intelligence?

Remember the Mozart Effect’the wildly popular idea that listening to music by Mozart would boost children’s IQ? Don Campbell, who took the Effect out of the lab and into the shopping mall, sells all sorts of products that supposedly will make your child smarter. Turns out, though, that the Mozart Effect does nothing of the kind (although that hasn’t stopped Campbell and others from making a ton of money).

Here’s what happened. Physicist Gordon Shaw and psychologist/musician Frances Rauscher played ten minutes of a Mozart piano sonata to a number of students and noticed a slight increase in the students’ spatial reasoning ability. But’and there are three big buts here’(1) whatever benefit there was disappeared after a few minutes, (2) the students were in college and there’s no indication that preschoolers and gradeschoolers would benefit from listening to Mozart, and (3) no other researchers have been able to get the same results.

So let’s dispense with the idea that listening to music is magic. But there’s no denying that it affects us. Music has been around about as long as humans have; archaeologists have found musical instruments more than 35,000 years old. And there is no culture in the world that doesn’t have music.

Everywhere you go you can see just how natural a part of our lives music is: That melody you can’t get out of your head all day, the woman in the car next to you rocking out while putting on her makeup, your child spontaneously dancing around your living room the second you turn on your stereo, movie soundtracks that get your heart racing or bring tears to your eyes, business owners driving away rowdy teens by playing classical music and Barry Manilow.

At this point in your child’s life she’s already been listening to music for years and she definitely prefers some styles over others (probably the same ones you do). If you haven’t already done so, I strongly recommend that you expose her to as many different kinds of music as you can. Some that you like, some that you don’t. You can put on anything and everything from Mahler to Motley Crue.

The only restrictions should be volume (not too loud) and lyrics (if you aren’t absolutely sure listen carefully. When my kids were little they loved Alanis Morisette and it was only after they were running around the house one day singing one of her songs that I realized it had a line about oral sex in a movie theater. Needless to say I did a much better job of screening after that.)

Under no circumstances should you limit yourself (or your child) to ‘children’s music.’ Far too much of it is condescending and dumbed down. There are a lot of wonderful musicians out there making music that’s ostensibly for kids but that you’ll listen to even when the kids aren’t around. Here are some of my favorites:

My list of top picks is changing every day and this list is by no means comprehensive. There are also several great places to get reviews and recommendations and to hear samples. Check out:

Whatcha think?

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