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The Mozart Effect

Sing lullaby... Photo credit: Google images

Sing lullaby... Photo credit: Google images

Mozart: Genius, Artist, Prodigy, lush operas and astonishing symphonies. The name of the famed Austrian composer evokes so much within the mind. Therefore, is it any wonder that many scientists theorize that listening to his music makes us smarter? Yet is there any truth in this claim, or is it as insubstantial as a distant melody?

What is the "Mozart Effect?"

In pop culture, the "Mozart Effect" is a theory that is concerned with the transformational powers of music (usually classical) in areas of mental and physical health, child development, and holistic well-being. In the past, music has been used as a form of therapy to assist patients coping with stress, depression, or anxiety. The rhythmical and melodic patterns in music are said to induce sleep or greater relaxation ("soothing the savage beast"), and also improve memory recall and some cognitive other processes. Thus far, music has been used in studies with students, the elderly, and patients suffering from dyslexia, autism, ADD, and epilepsy.

Research with Mozart's music began in France in the late 1950s when Dr. Alfred Tomatis began his experiments in auditory stimulation for children with speech and communication disorders. In the past decade, hundreds of centers worldwide have been established to study the effects of music with high frequencies, especially violin concertos and symphonies, to help children with dyslexia, speech disorders, and autism.

In recent years, the popularity of the "Mozart Effect" has primarily resulted from its implied consequences on those children and infants who are exposed to Mozart and other classical composers in the early stages of development. In short, the theory rests on the scientific claim that young children learn best through a combination of movement and emotional associations. By age two, a toddler's brain is capable of connecting motion, like marching or "dancing," with feelings of joy and happiness. Hence, the child is learning how to enjoy having some vague sense of rhythm. The reasoning beyond the "Mozart Effect" goes on to claim that the more music children hear before starting school, the stronger this neurological coding becomes, and that these connections will later serve them in most academics, not just music.

Why music?

Music is important for individual growth and early-development because it:

*Helps in brain and language development

* Serves as a link in learning to read

* Provides mental tools for problem solving

* Enhances cognitive and behavioral skills

* Fosters self-esteem and greater emotional awareness

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* Improves spatial-temporal reasoning... This is the ability to visualize something in space that unfolds over time. For example, picturing how a piece of paper will look unfolded, or reading a map and being able to determine about how far away you are from your destination. However, there's a catch; it is recommend that you not only listen to music, but learn it as well. Music lessons, particularly before the age of seven, can have a lasting effect on children's development. Studies by Dr Rauscher have shown that piano lessons are especially beneficial because:

"The keyboard seems to be most effective because it's a spatial layout, and music itself is arranged over time, so you have both elements that will help develop spatial-temporal thinking."

Although studies documenting the "Mozart Effect" originally singled out classical music as the "magic-cognitive-bullet" du jour, the truth is that there are other forms of music and sound therapy that are beneficial to one's health. For instance, ambient noise like the drone of air-conditioning, or the buzz of fluorescent lights, all affect the way humans concentrate. Therefore, choose music that is stimulating and arousing (not sexually, you don't want to be distracted, remember).

However, let's go back to Mozart and why he's so special. Neurologist John Hughes at the University of Illinois Medical Center proposes that because Mozart had a habit of repeating certain melodic phrases with slight variation, it "gave people something interesting to listen to.... Our brain loves pattern." In studies, similar results were garnered by some pieces of Bach, Mendelssohn and Haydn. However, Mozart's melodies tend to repeat every 20-30 seconds, which is about the same length of time as brain-wave patterns and other functions of the central nervous system.

Recent Biological Research

In a recent study involving rats (yes rats) and Mozart, those specimens that heard a sonata, "expressed higher levels of several genes involved in stimulating and changing the connections between brain cells" (Time). Researchers found that these rats had increased gene expression of BDNF, a neural growth factor, and CREB, a learning and memory protein, when compared to control rats who just listened to white noise.

"The findings are intriguing," says Howard Gardner, an IQ expert at Harvard University, and skeptic of the Mozart effect. "It suggests stimulation in general has measurable neurochemical effects. But whether this effect is due to music, let alone Mozart, still has to be determined."

Mozart and Baby

Here's how to use music to baby's best advantage:

  • Remember that after the sounds in the uterus, baby may find sleeping difficult without some background noise or music. Play or sing soft music to your child. Lullabies are a great way to feel emotionally connected with your newborn.
  • Make sure baby is sound asleep before turning off the music.
  • Watch your baby's reaction to the music.
  • Play music to introduce babies to patterns of sound on which they can build his understanding of the physical world.
  • Use music to reduce levels of emotional stress or physical pain, even in infancy.
  • Enhance your baby's motor development, including the grace and ease with which he/she learns to crawl, walk, skip, and run.

However, keep in mind that simply playing music is no substitute for one-on-one interaction with your child. So, when introducing the joys of music to your newborn, be sure to share the experience, even if you're simply rocking them back and forth in time with Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. To quote Dr. Charbis, "that [active parenting] is the key to a truly intelligent child, not the symphonies of a long-dead Austrian composer


Richard Jeffrey on November 03, 2007:

Too many parents are looking for an easy way to raise a kid as a genius and this idea that environmental stimulation is a fast-track to success is dangerously attractive to some new parents... The last paragraph is the absolute golden nugget that makes this phenomenon work!

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