August 27, 2016
The real Mozart effect
Baby Mozart? After a 1993 study in Nature
found classical music improved children’s spatial reasoning, news outlets mistakenly reported classical music could boost children’s IQ. This error spawned a craze among educators and parents that society is still cleaning up. Overnight, businesses sprouted up making recordings, videos, books and wind-up mobiles devoted to babies’ classical music needs. Not only was this mania based on a falsely-reported story, but the later attempts to recreate the results of the Nature experiment were unsuccessful. Regardless, the mythical baby Mozart effect was born. Subsequent studies have never found an impact of more than 1 IQ point from any particular musical exposure to infants. Another study concluded pop music was actually the best genre for boosting spatial reasoning for children. The states of Georgia and Tennessee passed laws requiring all maternity wards to provide new parents with classical music CDs along with their new babies. Talk about whistling Dixie. Soon, pop scientists were extolling the virtues of classical music to reduce epileptic seizures, accelerate the growth of plants, and even encourage microbial activity at sewage treatment facilities. None of these benefits exist. On the other hand, encouraging children to play music does appear to impact children’s development significantly. A recent Australian study suggests teaching toddlers to “jam” benefits numeracy, attention, and prosocial skills. (Not to mention boosting their CQ!) So maybe it should be called the Baby Hendrix effect?