Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mozart effect – a requiem

I spoke to a very smart woman, and learning professional, who was sitting next to me at a black-tie dinner last week, who extolled the virtues of playing Mozart to her children when they were very young and when they were learning. This, she claimed, had been proved scientifically to improve IQ and their ability to retain knowledge. She even extended her claim to the foetus. It was the vehemence and absolute certainty of her claim that made my bullshit alarm scream away like a banshee for the next hour.

Sparked off by a paper in Nature by Rauscher, Shaw and Ky (1993), which showed a small improvement in spatial reasoning score (very specific), the effect lasted no longer than 15 minutes, then disappeared. The theory also disappeared, as several follow up studies could not replicate the effect.

There’s usually a villain in such stories and in this case it’s Don Campbell, who published The Mozart Effect (1997) and The Mozart Effect for Children. These books are, quite simply, bogus. His claims bear no resemblance to the actual research and, if you have this idea floating around in your brain, it’s largely down to him trade-marking the effect, then publishing these books, that were then taken up by lazy ill-informed journalists. This is how it ended up in the minds of many parents and teachers. It was even funded and applied in some states in the US, notably Georgia and Florida.

Rauscher herself, disclaimed the idea, saying that they had made no claim linking the playing of Mozart to intelligence. Chabris and Steele in a meta-studies paper in 1999 put the nail in the coffin by showing that such effects are merely the result of short-term and temporary ‘enjoyment arousal.


Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Donald

Ah yes. You can spot these things a light year away. Definitely a case for Carl Sagan's Baloney Detection Kit.

Ka kite
from Middle-earth

Paul said...

Tut tut! I shall not have you trying to convince me that my future children should not learn the classics!