Mozart and Intelligence

One of the more startling findings about early enrichment is the effect of music. You can hardly pick up a newspaper without seeing some kind of reference to how Mozart makes people smarter. The governor of Georgia recently proposed spending $105,000 of state money to provide every newborn baby with a compact disc of classical music, citing its positive effects on brain development and spatial and mathematical skills. What is it about classical music that is so good for mental function, and are children particularly susceptible to its magic?

Almost all the research on this subject has been performed by one group of neuroscientists from the University of California at Irvine. They were struck by the observation that people who are musically talented are often also talented at skills involving spatial-temporal integration, such as mathematics, chess, and engineering. Perhaps, they argued, music directly activates the same patterns of spatial-temporal activity in the brain areas involved in these forms of reasoning. Of course, music itself has no spatial component, but recall that pitch is converted into a spatial map by the inner ear. Our brains, then, experience music as simultaneous patterns in both space and time, perhaps not unlike the kind of mental patterning required to plot a chess strategy, a geometry proof, or a building's construction. According to this view, certain types of music should be better than others at promoting spatial-temporal reasoning, which is the hypothesis these researchers set out to test.

They began with a bunch of willing college students. One group of undergraduates spent ten minutes listening to a Mozart piano sonata, a second group listened to a relaxation tape, and a third group sat in silence for the ten minutes. Immediately afterward, all three groups were tested using a series of spatial reasoning tasks, such as figuring out the pattern in a series of figures, or what a piece of paper would look like after going through a sequence of mental folding and cutting. The results were quite striking; the Mozart group scored some nine points higher in spatial IQ than the relaxation and silence groups. In a follow-up study, the researchers added the repetitive, minimalist music of Philip Glass to the comparison. Again, only the group who listened to Mozart showed significant improvement on the folding-and-cutting task, and none of the groups differed on a test of short-term memory. So it does look as though certain fairly complex types of music do specifically enhance spatial-temporal reasoning, perhaps by exercising optimal patterns of neural activity in the right hemisphere.


Why we suspect playing Mozart for infants will make them more intelligent.

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 What's Going on in There? : How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Eliot , Lise (2000-10-03), What's Going on in There? : How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life, Bantam, Retrieved on 2011-07-18
Folksonomies: parenting babies development infants physiology