Music | Science

So Much For The 'Mozart Effect'

NPR | Dec. 12, 2013 1:08 p.m.

Contributed By:

Scott Neuman

Music makes the heart grow fonder, but scientists are not so sure that it boosts IQ.

The Boston Globe notes:

“The idea that learning to play an instrument, read music, or sing in harmony will boost intelligence has become ingrained in modern life, but the evidence has always been pretty scant. Mehr traces the idea that music provides a cognitive boost to an influential paper published in 1993 in the journal Nature, which described a “Mozart effect.” Listening to a Mozart sonata could increase performance on tests of spatial reasoning, the study found.”

However, a new study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, shakes up some of that cherished wisdom.

He’s the short of it, according to the Globe: “Contrary to popular belief, a study—led by a Harvard graduate student who plays the saxophone, flute, bassoon, oboe, and clarinet—found no cognitive benefits to music lessons.”

The authors noted that while “some studies have found associations between musical training in childhood and later nonmusical cognitive outcomes,” few randomized controlled trials, or RCTs, had been employed to test the hypothesis.

They outlined their methodology, using groups of preschool children, that sought to compare students who received “a brief series of music classes” to those that received a similar form of non-musical (visual) arts instruction to a control group that got no specialized training.

“[Overall], children provided with music classes performed no better than those with visual arts or no classes on any assessment,” the authors wrote in the abstract.

“Our findings underscore the need for replication in [randomized controlled trials], and suggest caution in interpreting the positive findings from past studies of cognitive effects of music instruction.

The Globe says:

“The work is part of a trend in the field of psychology in which researchers are beginning to wrestle with studies whose results can’t be reproduced. Last month, an international consortium of psychology laboratories published the results of an attempt to replicate the findings of 13 experiments, and found that only 10 of the findings solidly held up.”

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