Will listening to Mozart make you brainier?

20 May 2013

Question

Will listening to Mozart could actually make you brainier? Is this a myth or has any real research been done on this?

Answer

Ian - In 1993, there was an experiment conducted that appeared as a letter to nature and it was an experiment where the bunch of students did visual-spatial intelligence test. Then either sat in a room quietly for 15 minutes or listen to a piece of Mozart for 15 minutes, and then read their visual-spatial intelligence test. And lo and behold! The ones who were in their Mozart listening condition improved their scores by 3 percentage points which is pretty high. So, Mozart makes you smarter? Well actually, that study was then explored and people try to replicate it, and some worked and some didn't. And they tried it with the rats and it seem to work on rats. So, if it worked on rats, it probably wasn't just something to do with Mozart or even music or whatever. And eventually, someone worked out, well, it could be that listening to Mozart is just more interesting or arousing than sitting in a room doing nothing for 15 minutes. And so, they explored this hypothesis and got people to do either interesting things or boring things between the two versions of intelligence test and when they did interesting things, they got better. When they did boring things, they perform about the same. So, it's not Mozart effect. It's a boring effect. This however didn't stop the governor of Georgia, the US state in the mid-1990s, issuing a governor's edict that every new born infant in the state of Georgia would go home with a CD of Mozart. And I think as far, that's still the case, great for sales of CDs of Mozart, but not much scientific measures.

Hannah - And they certainly haven't been doing any studies on expectant mothers and then following up their children 20 or 30 years later?

Ian - As far as I'm aware, there hasn't been a major impact on the IQ of the students in Georgia, but who knows?

Hannah - Darth Joe has been touch via Twitter saying, "Are humans the only ones that appreciate music or what about other animals such as dolphins or other primates? Do they like music too?"

Ian - Dolphins is a bit difficult. I don't know if anybody has ever asked them really. There has been some stuff done with farm animals study from many years ago as far as I can recall - explored that the difference in weight gain I think it was in pigs when played a music from Radio 1 - this is in the days when Radio 1 played rock music as opposed to Radio 2 - the days when Radio 2 played pop. And they found that the pigs who listened to Radio 2 gained quite a lot of weight. The pigs who listen to Radio 1 however became thin and nervous. That has probably got more to do with the noise levels and the fact that if you listen to a piece of death metal, it sounds more like an animal in pain than does Andy Williams although again, that's perhaps a question of perspective. Trying to get back on to serious track, death metal, if you actually analyse the spectrum, it's very jagged, very noisy. It's quite characteristic of the sort of sound that in the real world would have some biological significance for a whole range of species, indicating that something was in a degree of pain or undergoing some distress, or was being aggressive. All of those possible attributes would be likely to raise the arousal level, raise the stress level of the individual who's hearing the signal. Whereas Andy Williams, not much stress unless you have a loud music.

Hannah - Thanks, Ian Cross and if you've got any burning questions about your brain and the nervous system, you can just email them to neuroscience@thenakedscientists.com, you can tweet us @nakedneuroscience, or you can post on our Facebook page, and we'll do our best to answer them for you. You're listening to the Naked Neuroscience podcast with me Hannah Critchlow brought to you in association with the Wellcome Trust and in partnership with the British Neuroscience Association.

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