Mozart effect

Definitive review of the Mozart effect

July, 2010

Finally a definitive review making clear the limits of the Mozart effect (namely that it's a very small effect when it occurs, and it only occurs in very specific circumstances).

Some years ago I wrote an article discussing the fact that the so-called Mozart effect has proved very hard to replicate since its ‘discovery’ in 1993, but now we have what is regarded as a definitive review, analyzing the entirety of the scientific record on the topic (including a number of unpublished academic theses), and the finding is very clear: there is little support for the view that listening to Mozart improves cognitive (specifically spatial) abilities. First of all, in those studies showing an effect, it was very small. The size of the effect of the specific Mozart sonata used in the original study (Sonata KV 448) compared to no stimulus was similar in size to the effect of any music compared to no stimulus. There was a small significant effect for the Mozart sonata when directly compared to other music, which probably reflects the fact that the types of music used in different studies varied widely. Some types of music are doubtless less arousing than others.
There was also a large difference in the results from laboratories affiliated to Rauscher (the original researcher) or Rideout compared to other laboratories. Rauscher and Shaw 1998 did in fact emphasize that the effect required exact replication of their original study design.
I have to say that if this (small and very specific) effect depends so heavily on getting the procedural details exactly right, it’s of little practical use. I think the main lesson we can learn from all this is that your emotional state affects cognition (a well-established effect), and that you may find some types of music are best for ‘getting you in the mood’ for mental work.

Reference: 

[1587] Pietschnig, J., Voracek M., & Formann A. K.
(Submitted).  Mozart effect-Shmozart effect: A meta-analysis.
Intelligence. 38(3), 314 - 323.

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