Mozart effect: the myth and the mechanism
Short-lived: One caveat is that the effect is temporary and does not last even 24 hours after the music has stopped.
Dr. Alfred Tomatis wrote in 1991 that listening to the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart promoted the development of the brain. And in 1993 Drs. F. Rauscher, G. Shaw and K. Ky gave 36 college students some tests involving spatial-temporal tests under three conditions: to one set of them while listening to a piano sonata by Mozart (sonata for two pianos in D Major, K448), the second set listening to a repetitive relaxing music and the third set in total silence.
The first set of students was reported to score better than the other two.
Thus was born “The Mozart Effect”, referring to enhancement of performance or change in neurophysiological state associated with listening to the music of the European classical composer.
The Rauscher report created both enormous interest and skepticism. As is their wont, media grabbed it and exaggerated.
“Listening to Mozart makes you smarter”, “Tapping the power of music to the body, strengthen the mind and unlock the creative spirit”, etc.
All that Rauscher and coworkers said was that listening to that particular piece gave the students a short term benefit — not a permanent one — and that too limited to certain tasks. They made no claim that listening to Mozart enhances intelligence.
As it turned out, many scientists were sceptical about the Rauscher report itself. Drs. CF Chabris and KM Steele published two papers titled: “Prelude or Requiem for the Mozart Effect”, showing that any benefit seen is small, short-term, and does not reflect any change in the IQ or reasoning ability in general, but is a simple “enjoyment arousal”.
And a group from Toronto, Canada suggested that the effect is due to temporary change in mood and arousal that result from prolonged exposure (8-10 min) to music.
Not all music generates the Mozart effect, however. The music must be perceived as having an energetic and positive emotional quality
(Arousal, Mood and the Mozart Effect. Thompson, Schellenberg and Husain, Psychological Science 2001, 12: 248-251).
Despite this, the Mozart effect is now pushed not just on toddlers, but as good for premature babies.
Drs. R. Lubetzky and group have just come out with a paper in Pediatrics, titled: “Effect of music by Mozart on energy expenditure in growing pre-term infants” (download free from www.pediatrics.org/cgi/doi.10.1542/peds.2009-0990). They chose 20 healthy growing pre-term infants (delivered at 30-37 weeks of pregnancy).
To one group, resting after a feed, they played Mozart from a CD and measured their metabolic activity as they listened to Mozart for 10, 20 and 30 minutes.
The other were similarly measured but with no music played. Metabolism was measured using an indirect calorimeter that continuously measures the oxygen consumed and the carbon dioxide exhaled.
This double measurement estimates the energy expenditure while resting (REE).
Babies that were listening to Mozart for 30 minutes while resting had an average REE of 53.89 plus or minus 8.12 kcal/kg per day while the control set had 61.44 plus or minus 13.07.
The Mozart listeners had expended less energy, and thus better metabolic efficiency- basis for better growth and weight gain.
However, there are several caveats. One is that the effect is temporary, and does not last even 24 hours after the music is stopped.
Second, REE does not reflect all of total energy expenditure. Third, the same experiment done on obese adults did not show this effect — and also music by other composers such as Bach, Bartok, or Stravinsky did not work.
What do we make of such studies? One is that despite the obligatory warning that each such study looks at one particular aspect of body/brain/neurological function, and that too short-term, the conclusions are temptingly generalized.
Secondly, an element of ‘subjectivity’ and not so easily quantifiable or repeatable feature enters the study, despite whatever protestation the researchers make. Third, their conclusions are always too woolly; note for example the one from Lubetzky: “the clinical implications of our study belong to the field of speculation”. And I thought that the idea of a scientific investigation is to precisely do away with speculation, and the job of a journal editor to discourage such speculations from entering a scientific journal! Would one blame the eager media if it comes out and says- if you want your premee to grow hale and hearty, play Mozart!
Sceptics like Will Dowd give us a different perspective (access through Google: “The Myth of the Mozart Effect”, Will Dowd). If Mozart is so useful for mental health, why did Mozart himself suffer so much mentally? And why only Mozart- why not Bach, or any other?
Why only music — why not art, Renaissance painters, or a classic novel? Dowd says: “If the Mozart Effect teaches us one thing, it is that the results of a flawed study are always at risk of becoming a common expression, a copyrighted product, a popular belief infused with a magic that is difficult to dispel”.
Listening to good music soothes the mind and offers enjoyment arousal.
It does not have to be only Mozart. My own choice would be The Trout Quintet by Franz Schubert. Or in Indian music- Gangubai Hangal, MS Subbulakshmi, Ali Akbar Khan, Amir Khan, Semmangudi, Rashid Khan, Aruna Sairam, N. Rajam, TM Krishna.
But listening is not good enough, doing it is better. Study of the brains of musicians shows more grey matter in their auditory cortex than in non-musicians- flexing a muscle in the brain, as it were.
Is this why many outstanding musicians live ling? Thus, you want to grow all-round and be a better person, listen, but also sing or play an instrument — classical please!
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