According to some studies, listening to Mozart music may have positive psychological effects on brain development and induce a short-term improvement on the performance of certain kinds of mental tasks, such as spatial tasks requiring visual-spatial abilities.
Some research has concluded that listening to compositions by the Austrian musician Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - like other pieces of classical music - have temporary beneficial effects on mental function. But is there a link between music and cognitive function of a developing brain? Can classical music also accelerate brain development in young children?
Is there a link between exposure to sound and improved brain function?
While some research showed a link between exposure to sound before birth and improved brain function, researchers are yet to identify any mechanisms responsible for the link between music and the developing brain.
The Mozart effect is a controversial theory; many researchers argue that there is not enough scientific evidence to support it. As in many other cases of children's cognitive development research, it is difficult to conduct rigorous experiments.
A study carried out by neurologists from the University of Maryland (USA) offers a clue to the possible physiological basis of the alleged Mozart effect. The authors collected data on a type of cells (subplate neurons) present in the primary sensory areas of the brain during early stages of brain development.
Until now, it was thought that the subplate neurons were part of a structural scaffolding with no function in the transmission of sensory information, but the experiment found that subplate neurons do process sensory signals.
This finding would support earlier research documenting hitherto undetected brain activity in response to sound in fetuses. These nerve cells are among the first to make up the cerebral cortex, a region that controls perception, abstract reasoning, language and memory.
The theory began to take shape in 1991, when the French otolaryngologist and researcher Alfred A. Tomatis published the book Pourquoi Mozart? (Why Mozart?). The Tomatis method is a therapeutic procedure that uses music during therapy sessions with patients, based on the idea that Mozart's work can cure cases of depression. Tomatis method aims to stimulate the ear and the nervous system in order to initiate various aspects of brain healing and development.
What did Frances Rauscher 1993 research showed?
In 1993, the French psychologist Rauscher, described in an article (music and spatial task performance) published in the journal Nature, the positive effects on spatial-temporal reasoning tests that were observed in 36 students who listened for 10 minutes to the sonata for two pianos in D major KV 448 (375a).
The study was conducted with three groups of high school students. While some of them listened to the above-mentioned Mozart work, a second group listened to relaxation instructions designed to reduce blood pressure and the third group was not exposed to any auditory stimulation. The researchers found that students who had listened to Mozart scored higher than students in the other groups.
However, Francesca Rauscher herself later made it clear that there is no scientific evidence that listening to any kind of music increases intelligence. Further research reveals that Mozart's sonatas are pleasing to the ear, but that it cannot be deduced from this that they enhance children's intelligence.
Is the Mozart Effect scientifically proven?
Mozart's sonatas are pleasing to the ear, but the belief that they boost children's intelligence is probably false, according to a research by scientists at the University of Vienna.
Jakob Pietschnig and his colleagues have reached this conclusion after analyzing more than 30 studies involving nearly 3,000 people, without finding any evidence that music influenced the ability of spatial representation.
Since the 1993 announcement by U.S. psychologist Frances Rauscher that Mozart's compositions improved IQ, many families have made efforts to have their children listen to Mozart's music even before they are born. However, the new study seems to confirm that the so-called "Mozart effect" is just an urban legend.