If somebody tells me about the “Mozart Effect” one more time I am going to start breaking faces. I realise that my metal music alliances may be enough to freak out the most liberal of thinkers but it would be most appreciated if people did their research.
The Mozart Effect is a theory that is based on a set of research results, which indicate that listening to Mozart’s music may induce a short-term improvement on the performance of certain kinds of mental tasks known as ‘spatial-temporal reasoning‘. Popularised versions of the theory credit the playing of classical music to babies with boosting IQ, improving health, strengthening family ties and even producing the occasional child prodigy. This idea was entrenched in the 1997 book by Don Campbell, The Mozart Effect: Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind, and Unlock the Creative Spirit. Although there have been numerous studies conducted in support of the Mozart Effect, the theory remains controversial and there are many academics and studies that debunk the extent and consistency of the proposed effects of classical music on babies. There are researchers who argue that the Mozart Effect represents only the short-term effects of classical music on mood and arousal. There are also studies concluding that although classical music may have a calming effect babies, it does not in fact improve IQ. This is why researchers continue to test whether the Mozart Effect is real and if any other styles and pieces of music have the same effect.
A small-scale study conducted by Dr Alexandra Lamont, Lecturer in the Psychology of Music at Keele University, on the effect of music on an unborn child, shows that babies can remember and prefer music that they heard before they were born over 12 months later. The discovery expands on the theory that babies can only remember things for a month or two by suggesting that memory could last a great deal longer than that. Lamont states that “It used to be assumed that it was really noisy in the womb but actually it’s quite quiet. So the baby should be able to hear your stereo at a reasonable volume. You don’t need to apply headphones to your bump!” According to Lamont, any kind of music will be heard although bass frequencies will travel through fluid better and be more audible to your unborn baby. This research provides important new evidence for the influence of nurture in early child development.
Lamont’s “The Child Of Our Time” study involved a small group of mothers playing a single piece of music to their babies for the last three months before birth. Dr Lamont said the music was chosen by the mother so all babies heard different pieces of music while still in the womb. These included classical (opera, Mozart and Vivaldi), world (Spirits of Nature), reggae (UB40, Ken Boothe) and pop (Five). Over 12 months later, eleven of the babies were tested and showed a significant preference for the pieces of music they had heard in utero compared with very similar pieces of music they had not heard before. After the babies were a year old, they heard the pre-natal music and other music that was matched for style, key, pace and loudness and it was concluded that the style of the music is not important – the babies recognise UB40 just as much as they do Mozart – but the pace of the music seems to be influential. The babies with faster music like Five’s If Ya Gettin’ Down or the start of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons showed stronger preferences than the babies with slower music like Mozart’s Adagio for Wind. This relates to other findings by Dr Lamont that babies have developed clear preferences for faster and more exciting music by the age of 12 months. Dr Lamont’s study suggests that although deliberate and extended pre-natal exposure to music sets up a very long-term memory trace for a particular piece of music, and that this is recognised and preferred over 12 months later, babies’ outstanding musical memories are not at all related to their intelligence. Dr Lamont emphasized that there is no evidence here that playing classical music to babies helps make their brains develop – the babies perform just as well with pop or reggae music, and the same high levels of musical memory are found in babies from families where IQ levels differ enormously.
The small scale of Lamont’s study may not be enough to convince parents that the Mozart Effect is untrue – and it isn’t meant to. But it does represent a body of evidence that renders the Mozart Effect sufficiently inconsistent to hopefully make individuals think before they start sprouting this “classical music inspires a higher IQ bullshit”. The initial music brain study, conducted by Drs. Shaw and Rauscher suggested that students exposed to 10 minutes of music by Mozart, specifically Allegro conspirito from Sonata for Two Pianos in D major, K448 caused an enhancement in reasoning (ordering objects in space and time) lasting from some 10-15 minutes. Rauscher acknowledges that there is popular misconception that her work showed a relationship between listening to Mozart and general intelligence. Her original result, which is, she claims, upheld by other studies, reported only an improvement in tasks involving ordering objects in space and time. Dr. Norman Weinberger, Executive Director of the International Foundation for Music Research, stated, “Many studies have failed to replicate the Shaw/Rauscher original Mozart effect of passive listening” and Fran Rauscher wrote an article stating “I would be extremely cautious about arguing that passive listening to music briefly produces an ‘increase in IQ’ (even transiently). The major transfer effects of music are likely to come from active playing of music and in continual music education experiences.” In other words, active music making, not passive listening is the key to enhanced spatial-temporal reasoning.
I guess the whole ‘music and babies’ thing has become a personal issue for me because of the extreme kind of music that I listen to. And I have thought long and hard about the type of music I want to expose my baby/toddler/child to. I have no doubt about the significant effects of music on a child – both negative and positive. My baby has already been exposed to some pretty extreme bands and if Lamont’s music proves consistent, my baby girl will like In Flames and Caliban and will show a ‘strong preference’ in a year’s time. It annoys me that my poor child is being set up for failure by some – any personality trait or behavioural manifestation that she may display will merely be chalked down to “well, you shouldn’t have played that music or seen that concert” or “it’s because you didn’t play her classical music”. It reminds me of the outdated perception that inclines many people to attribute the behaviour of children of divorced families to ‘the divorce’ when in fact life is far more complex and contextual and the psychology of ‘blame the divorce’ is just too reductive. It’s annoying and I get rather aggressive about these things. I am still getting used to the idea that when you have children, everyone’s ten cents worth will be delivered; well intentioned or not, asked for or not. Everyone has an opinion and everyone has a ‘right’ way of doing things. It’s great to discuss ideas, to debate and share experiences and opinions. But judgment and ‘thou shalts’ are just annoying, especially when based on hearsay or ignorance. Finally, the ironic crux of the whole ‘music and babies’ debate, which confronts me on a personal level and warrants a whole other rant, is the assumption that: because I like metal, naturally, I don’t like or appreciate classical music. Point made.