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The Mozart Effect: Myth or Fact

Bukola Jaji

October 9, 2009


Ambition for Intelligence

          Parents and teachers are in continuous pursuit of better learning for the younger generation.  Higher learning promises success, innovation, and advance technology for the future.  Increasing the ability to learn may ensure these promises to the fullest, however, is it possible? Can a person make themself smarter?  The Mozart Effect claims that by listening to Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, and other classical artists, a person becomes smarter because of the stimulation of nerve activity due to the complexity of the music.  Expecting parents are encouraged in parental magazines to play classical music during the prime years of an infant’s brain development to give their baby its highest IQ possible.  Articles like these mislead people to believe classical music improves one’s ability to calculate and memorize facts, when in fact the Mozart Effect, and any concept related to music has very little to do with scientific reasoning, or left brain activity, and everything to do with emotion and creativity in problem solving, the right brain activity.

Music Involvement in Neurological Development

The Mozart Effect is allegedly most effective during the first stages of life, when brain development is most rapid and complex.  During embryonic development, neural crest cells, neurons not yet function specific, migrate from the neural tube, or the spinal cord of the infant.   The migrations form ganglia that grow axons to target different organs including the brain (Robertson, 2004).  As the pathways of neural crest cells develop, the connections they form become stronger by stimulation.  The music pathways become strong and more complex when music is detected by the brain.  Many neurological pathways are linked with music, including the ability to visualize and interpret shapes known as spatial reasoning, memory, and perception.  Therefore, these pathways are also strengthened when neurons are stimulated with music.  All genres of music can cause this stimulation, but the complexity and interchanging notes of classical music is the most effective (Bales).  Neurons can be stimulated even after their connections are well-developed, so adults too can witness the effects of Mozart’s music, although the outcome is not as strong.

Figure 1.  Mouse embryo expressing migration of neural crest cells (blue color)


Spatial Task Study of College Students

Researchers at the University of California (The Center of Neurobiology of Learning and Memory [CNLM], 1993) debated whether there was a correlation between music cognition and other higher brain functions in adults.  The study was designed to depict the strength of the relationship between music and cognition pertaining to mathematic operations and spatial reasoning.  The experiment consisted of thirty-six college students participating in three listening conditions; listening to Mozart’s sonata, listening to a relaxation tape, and then a condition in silence.  Immediately after each listening procedure, the student’s spatial reasoning skills were tested and then scored using the Stanford-Binet intelligence scale (CNLM, 1993).

The results of the spatial task study were quite significant, showing the students who had been subjected to the Mozart listening condition scored 8 to 9 points above their IQ scores when in the relaxation and silence conditions.  The researchers later discovered, however, that the Mozart Effect in these students lasted no longer than 10 to 15 minutes after they had been subjected to music.  The experimenters also questioned their choice of composition for the study, and whether its complexity was sufficient enough to cause maximum stimulation of nerves.  Although the researchers at CNLM were able to temporarily assist college students in better thinking, they were not successful in making the students smarter by the Mozart Effect. 

Mozart Effect on Prenatal Rats

A recent study in Korea examined music’s influence on spatial learning ability in developing rats to show that Mozart Effect is strongest during neurogenesis, specifically in the hippocampus where spatial reasoning is most active.  Their procedure was similar to that of CNLM’s spatial task study, however, their focus was on prenatal music exposure, rather than exposure after birth.  Impregnated female rats were randomly divided into three groups; Noise-applied Group, Music-applied Group, and a control group, Undisturbed Group which was left in silence. 

Twenty-one days after the rats gave birth, the pups were subjected to a spatial learning ability test which involved the pups finding water in a radial arm maze.  The music-applied pups had the highest number of correct choices in the radial arm maze.

Figure 2. The influence of prenatal noise and music on the spatial memory. Upper: the time to complete eight successful performances. Middle: the number of correct choice prior to the occurrence of first error. Lower: the number of error prior to eight successful performances. (A) Control group, (B) noise-applied group, (C) music-applied group.


The results of this study suggest that prenatal exposure to classical music in pups do help facilitate brain development in the hippocampus.  They also support the idea that, when applied during neurogenesis, the Mozart Effect is longer lasting, and may even be permanent. However, results with human participants are subject to variability (Department of Physiology Kyung Hee University 2006).

Work Harder, Think Smarter

The supporting evidence of neurologic research has yet to convince skeptics.  Studies have indeed shown that listening to classical music can lead to higher test scores, but Dr. Diane Bales, author of “Building Baby’s Brain:  The Role of Music”, argues that the results we see with music are not from an increase in IQ, but from better thinking.  The article suggest that the complexity of classical music does stimulate the brain, but in a sense to make the brain better at problem solving and thinking creatively rather than increasing its learning ability.  Bales also argues that stimulation can come from all types of music and not just classical music.  The article is not intended to discourage readers from achieving higher intelligence through music, but to allow readers to understand that music is connected to other qualities that contribute to a person’s ingenuity.

Advocates of the Mozart Effect

The Mozart Effect Theory is taken advantage by music and software companies claiming to enhance brain power by purchasing their composition of music or combination of classical songs.  Parental magazines also promote playing classical music to their children, along with reading with the children and reducing amount of television watched per day to increase a child’s intelligence.  There is little promotion of the Mozart Effect towards college-aged students and adults.  This may be due to the Mozart theory having a smaller effect on adults.

Benefits of the Mozart Effect

Figure 3. Happy college students

Happy College Students


A student may want to partake in the advantages of the Mozart Effect, even if the results are short term, but in doing so, he or she will experience other benefits neurological studies fall short of including.  Psychological studies have shown music to be linked to other traits like distressing, evoking positive emotion, and helping the creativity in a person (   In many situations these qualities serve to be as, if not more useful than solving a jigsaw puzzle or calculating a mathematical equation. In youth, the Mozart Effect may better their thinking ability, but the pursuit for higher learning will grow continuously with each passing generation.







Bales, Diane. “Building Baby’s Brain: The Role of Music.” Education Oasis, 2005. Web. 4 Oct. 2009. <>.

Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. “Music and Spatial Task Performance.” Nature 365 (Oct. 1993): 611. Print.

Department of Physiology, College of Medicine, Kyung Hee University. “Influence of prenatal noise and music on the spatial memory and neurogenesis in the hippocampus of developing rats.” Brain and Development 28.2 (2006): 109-114. Print.

Migrating Neural Crest Cells of Mouse Embryo. N.d. Wolfson Institute for Biomedical , n.d. Web. 8 Oct. 2009.

Robertson, David. Primer on the Autonomic Nervous System. San Diego: Elsevier Academic Press, 2004. Print.





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