Posted November 7, 2000
One of the most popular things about Mozart's music is that it makes you smarter. In fact, there are several CDs for sale with names like "Mozart makes you smart." They're designed specifically to increase your IQ score, or your baby's IQ score.
Unfortunately, it's not that simple.
In fact, there's a pretty good chance that it doesn't work at all.
I'll bring you up to speed on the history of this idea, and then I'll play some Mozart so you can try it yourself.
The idea of "Mozart makes you smart" started in 1993. Three researchers at the University of California Irvine -- Frances Rauscher, Gordon Shaw, and and Katherine Ky -- got a dozen students together to listen to Mozart's Sonata For Two Pianos In D Major. They also had two control groups: for purposes of comparison, one group listened to a tape of relaxation instructions; the other group sat in silence.
All of the students then took part in an IQ test -- not a proper IQ test, if there is such a thing, but a selected part of an IQ test. The students watched a piece of paper as it was folded several times and cut up with scissors. The group who listened to Mozart could predict what the unfolded paper would look like, more accurately than the other two groups.
The CNN version of the story goes like this: "Researchers reported in 1993 that college students could raise their IQs by listening to a few soaring bars of a Mozart sonata."
There are two main problems, however.
First of all, the effect was quite small. So small, in fact, that it could easily have been a random effect. For example, if you toss ten coins and six of them come up heads, it is rash to predict that heads is more likely than tails.
The second problem? Well, guess how long the effect lasts. 10 to 15 minutes, according to the original study.
Doctor Frances Rauscher is now an assistant professor of cognitive development at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh. Straight from the horse's mouth: "I'm horrified -- and very surprised -- over what has happened. It's a very giant leap to think that if music has a short-term effect on college students that it will produce smarter children. When we published the study results, we didn't think anyone would care. The whole thing has really gotten out of hand."
I'll play Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major now, and you can draw your own conclusions.
But first I should warn you about another study. In Finland, four people at the Institute of Biomedicine -- called Carlson, Rama, Artchakov, and Linnankoski -- tried a similar experiment using monkeys instead of humans. They tried Mozart, simple rhythms, white noise, and silence. White noise gave the best results; Mozart gave the worst results.
Now I'll give you a chance to determine your species. If you get smarter after listening to this piece, you're a college student. If you get stupider, you're a monkey.