Mozart Sonata and Cognition

Remember the Mozart Effect? It was all the rage about 12 years ago. After my son was born in Georgia, we left the hospital with a Mozart CD. The Governor of Georgia had determined that giving every infant born in Georgia a Mozart CD was a very cheap price to pay to make that Georgia infant a genius.

The Mozart Effect was a phenomena described in a book written by Don Campbell in 1997. The thesis of the book was that listening to Mozart would increase your IQ and mental functioning. Much of the research in the book was based on work done by a French physician, Alfred Tomatis. Tomatis had treated over 10,000 patients using music and found that listening to Mozart improved spatial perception and language skills and decreased anxiety. Tomatis used Mozart to treat these problems but never claimed that listening to Mozart would make you a genius. Campbell’s book sensationalized the possible benefits of listening to Mozart and many mothers invested tons of money on 'Baby Mozart' CDs.

The Mozart Effect was thought, when the book was published, by many psychiatrist and cognitive therapist to be a fad and the research in the book came under serious scrutiny after the book was published. Almost immediately some researchers set out to test the claims of the book. Many studies were performed and the vast majority of the studies demonstrated no permanent changes in IQ from listening to Mozart. Some studies reported that any improvement in spatial perception, language skills or anxiety were transient and went away after the music stopped.

On a completely different note, it is interesting to me that we measure success of therapies such as behavioral therapy, music therapy and cognitive therapy by determining if the effects of the therapy persist after the treatment stops but we are happy to claim that medications are a great success because they work while you are using them. 

We would never say, "That Vyvanse is simply worthless, you get very little benefit once you stop taking it." but if you undergo a cognitive training program and the effects do not persist six month after the program (even though there was considerable improvements while you were doing the program) then the therapy is considered a failure. It makes you appreciate how powerful therapies like diet, sleep hygiene programs and exercises are as their benefits are long lasting.

It seems that Mozart has been found to help people, animals and even plants while they are listening but the effects stop if you do not listen. Studies in France have found that dairy cows that have Mozart piped into their stalls give more milk. In Japan, Mozart is played in breweries, near the yeast used to make sake, and the Japanese report that the quality of the sake is greatly improved by this music. In some language courses offered by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Mozart is played because studies have found that language learning is improved when Mozart is piped into the classroom.

Musicologist theorize that the tempo and rhythm of Mozart is helpful because it follows a pattern that the brain utilizes through auditory processing mechanisms to improve neurotransmission which in turn can improve symptoms such as anxiety, language and spatial perception deficits.. 

Many people prefer to work and many children prefer to do their homework with music playing in the background. A recent study performed at the University of Dayton, found that background Mozart improved the accuracy of language processing and the speed of spatial processing. Though it is Mozart's Sonatas that are reported to give the best cognitive effects, this study used 10 different Mozart pieces that were of the same tempo and found similar effects. 

Our children rarely want to listen to Mozart and I am pretty sure that Justin Bieber music will not give us the same benefits but then again who knows, we have yet to study it...

Percept Mot Skills. 2010 Jun;110(3 Pt 2):1059-64.
Background music and cognitive performance.
Angel LA, Polzella DJ, Elvers GC.
University of Dayton, USA.

The present experiment employed standardized test batteries to assess the effects of fast-tempo music on cognitive performance among 56 male and female university students. A linguistic processing task and a spatial processing task were selected from the Criterion Task Set developed to assess verbal and nonverbal performance. Ten excerpts from Mozart's music matched for tempo were selected. Background music increased the speed of spatial processing and the accuracy of linguistic processing. The findings suggest that background music can have predictable effects on cognitive performance.

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