Listening to Mozart’s music enhances our brain activity. After listening to Mozart, people responding to the standard IQ test demonstrate an increase in intelligence.
This phenomenon discovered by some scientists was called the “Mozart effect.” Far-reaching conclusions were immediately drawn from it, especially with regard to the education of children, whose first three years of life were proclaimed decisive for their future intelligence.This theory received such a strong public response that Mozart’s CDs, with the appropriate recommendations of parents, hit the very beginning of the bestseller lists, and the Governor of the US state of Georgia presented a Mozart CD to each new mother in his staff.
True, the excitement subsided somewhat after some skeptics tried to check the “Mozart effect” and did not get the predicted result. As for children, in his book, an authoritative specialist in brain research and cognition, John Broyer, shows that the “myth of the first three years” of life has no basis and the human brain continues to change and learn throughout life.
Nevertheless, the intriguing hypothesis about the effect of music on brain activity not only keeps going, but in recent years has even received a whole range of new weighty evidence, both subjective and objective.
What is true here, what is just a lie, and what is statistics?
For the first time, this idea came across more than ten years ago by neuroscientist Gordon Shaw of the University of California (USA) and his graduate student Leng during the first attempts to simulate the brain on a computer.
It is known that various groups of nerve cells in the brain perform various kinds of mental operations. Shaw and Leng created models of some such group of “cells” (actually electronic units) in a computer and checked what would happen if you change the ways of connecting these “cells” with each other.
They found that each connection scheme, that is, each successive “network” formed by the same cells, generates output signals of a different form and rhythm. Once it occurred to them to convert these output signals into sound ones. To their great surprise, it turned out that all these signals had a certain musical character, that is, they reminded some kind of music, and moreover – with each change in the ways of connecting the cells to a network, the character of this “music” changed: sometimes it reminded melodious melodies like “New Age” , sometimes – oriental motifs, and even classical music.
But if the performance of mental operations in the brain has a “musical” character, thought Gordon Shaw, can it not be that music, in turn, is capable of influencing mental activity, initiating certain neural networks?
Since these networks are formed in childhood, Shaw decided to use the works of Mozart to test his hypothesis, who, as we know, began composing music at the age of four. If anything can affect the innate neural structure, the scientist argued, then it should be Mozart’s children’s music.
Gordon Shaw and his colleague psychologist Francis Rauscher decided to use the standard IQ test for the experiment to test whether Mozart’s music can stimulate the ability to mentally manipulate geometric shapes.
The ability to imagine different stereoscopic objects in imagination when changing their position in space (for example, turning around its axis) is necessary in a number of exact sciences, for example, in mathematics.
In 1995, Shaw and Rauscher published the results of a study in which 79 college students participated. Students were asked to answer which forms could be obtained from a paper napkin, folding it and cutting it out in various ways.
At the end of the test, students were divided into three groups. The students of the first group sat for 10 minutes in complete silence, the second group all this time listened to a recorded story or repetitive primitive music; students of the third group listened to Mozart’s piano sonata.
After that, all participants in the experiment repeated the test. And here are the results. While the first group improved its results by 14, and the second – by 11 percent, the Mozart group correctly predicted 62 percent more forms than in the first test.
Another employee of Gordon Shaw, Julien Johnson from the Institute of Aging of the Brain at the University of California, performed the same test with paper folding and cutting out figures among Alzheimer’s patients, who often had a weakened spatial representation.
In a preliminary experiment, one of the patients after receiving a ten-minute “dose” of Mozart improved his results by three to four correct answers (out of eight possible). Silence or popular music of the thirties did not give such an effect.
However, the experiment of Shaw and Rauscher caused criticism from other researchers. Kenneth Steele, a psychologist at North Carolina State University (USA), reported that he repeated this test among 125 people, but did not find signs of the influence of Mozart’s music on the subjects.
Another psychologist, Christopher Chabris from Harvard, examined a group containing 714 participants. According to him, the analysis of the test results also revealed no benefit from listening to music. Chabris suggested that the real reason for the best performance of the task in the Show-Rauscher experiment was the excitement caused by the pleasure from the music of Mozart, and not by the changes she made in the neural networks. With an elevated mood, people work better – everyone knows that.
On the other hand, some skeptics, after a closer acquaintance with the question, have changed their attitude towards the Mozart effect. So, Louise Hetland from Harvard Pedagogical College processed the entire amount of testing results received at the moment, in the amount of which included 1014 people.
Her results were naturally more reliable. She found that Mozart’s listeners overtook other groups in the performance of the task more often than could be explained by sheer chance. At the same time, the effect discovered by her was significantly weaker than that of Shaw and Rauscher. But this small effect, according to Hetland, produces a significant impression.
To test her assumptions, Rauscher set a special experiment on rats that obviously do not have an emotional reaction to music. A group of 30 rats was placed in a room where, for more than two months, for 12 hours, the Mozart Sonata in C major sounded.
It turned out that after that the rats ran the maze by an average of 27 percent faster and with a 37 percent smaller number of errors than the other 80 rats that developed amid random noise or silence. According to Rauscher, this experiment confirms the neurological, and not the emotional nature of the Mozart effect.
True, Kenneth Steele (who, by the way, is a specialist in animal training) did not convince the data. Rats should respond to rat squeaking, not human music, he said.
From the point of view of modern evolutionary or psychological theory, there is no reason why rat brains should react to Mozart in the same way as human ones.
Rauscher agrees that, perhaps, music can simply provide experimental rats with a more stimulating environment. Now she has begun a new series of experiments in which she is going to compare rats planted on a rigid Mozart “diet” with their counterparts in other cages, also receiving stimulation, but in the form of social contacts and rat “toys”, and not music.
Other evidence was obtained of the effect of Mozart’s music on the brain. Neurologist from the University of Illinois Medical Center (USA), John Hughes, conducted an experiment on 36 severe epileptic patients who suffered from almost constant seizures.
In the process of observing the sick, the scientist included the music of Mozart and compared the brain encephalogram before and during exposure to music. In 29 patients from this group, the waves of brain activity arising during an attack became weaker and less frequent soon after switching on the music.
“Skeptics may criticize studies conducted with IQ tests,” says Hughes, “but here the results are objective, they are recorded on paper: you can count the number and amplitude of the electrical waves that stimulate the brain and observe their decrease while listening to Mozart.”
It is interesting to note that when, instead of Mozart, the same patients listened to the music of some other composers, the popular rhythms of the thirties or complete silence, they did not experience any improvement.