Analysis of Mozart Effect: A Reality or Myth

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Abstract

Mozart Effect has been described as the increased cognitive and spatial reasoning after listening to the musician, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K.448 Sonata. The phenomenon was first studied by Rauscher and colleagues in the year 1993. Since then, the effect has always remained a controversial concept among the researchers. The effect has been linked to brain’s attributes like- cognitive skills, spatial reasoning, neuroplasticity etc. Different researchers have provided their views on the credibility of Mozart effect, and others have debunked it. This paper will discuss the Mozart Effect in the light of literature, theories and experiments. The paper supports the studies on the positive impact of Mozart on spatial skills, but it suggests a need for more studies for relating Mozart Effect with improved cognitive levels.

Introduction

The role of music is multifaceted, as it impacts the society in many ways. Music helps in the process of social cohesion, and it promotes teamwork. Music acts as a stress-buster and helps in anger-management. Falk(2004), gave a psychological theory and said that humming a lullaby helps in maintaining a high-level of attachment between a mother and her child (Schafer et al, 2013). Researchers have always tried to find a relation between music and mind. Scholars like Aristotle said that, music helped in solving the problems easily, and Kant said that music is an artistic sense. On the other hand, Darwin proposed that music is quite mysterious. Modern researchers like Perlovsky (2012), said that a state of impaired thoughts (cognitive dissonance) can be controlled by playing music. Bonniot-Cabanac (2009) said that, Mozart was a music which could induce both “pleasure and displeasure”(Perlovsky et al, n.d.). A number of studies based on Mozart Effect were done in the past and it is still a vital topic among the researchers.

In the year 1990, studies published on the effect of music on the spatial reasoning suggested that “visuospatial abilities” improved after listening to Mozart. Since then, there has been a tremendous increase in the studies related to a phenomenon called “Mozart Effect” (Deutsch). The very first meta-analysis, on Mozart effect, was done by Chabris in the year 1999. In the study, the participants were divided into two groups, the first group listened to Mozart and the others were given instructions. The participants were then given paper folding and cutting (PF&C) instructions and it was found that the subjects who listened to Mozart performed better in PF&C tasks (Deutsch, 2012). This paper gives account of many studies which support the relation between Mozart effect and improved spatial reasoning, but no study confirms the improvement in cognition or mood.

Literature review on Mozart

Mozart Effect was a term coined in the year 1993, when an experiment was conducted by Rauscher et al. The experimental findings suggested that after listening to Mozart’s Sonata for ten minutes, there was an increase in the “spatial temporal reasoning”. Then in the year 1995, a test was conducted by Newman, Rosenbach and Burns, in which 114 participants were studied. The study used “Raven's Progressive Matrices Advanced Form” (Gasezner et al, 2017), which consisted of multiple choice questions. The students were studied before and after listening to Mozart music. The findings suggested that, there was no induced effect on the problem-solving skills of the students. Another study proved the “Raven” (Gasezner et al, 2017) study wrong; it was conducted by Hetland and colleagues in the year 2000. The study findings suggested that not only Mozart, but any form of music showed improvement in spatial reasoning skills.

However, in the year 2015, Millichap studied the impact of Mozart on “sleep, human behavior and seizure duration” of 11 patients between 1.5 to 21 years of ages. These patients had “drug-resistant” epilepsy. The findings proved that the seizures were controlled for some time, after listening to Mozart. In the same year Millichap’s study was confirmed by Verrusio’s neurological studies and it was found that Mozart activated the neural “cortical circuits” linked to cognitive functioning of the brain. Further, a study by Xing et al(2016), confirmed Verrusio’s study (Gasezner et al, 2017). No study gave the reason for activation of cortical circuits except the study published by Daud and colleagues(2017).

Comparing Mozart Effect

Mozart is called by many researchers as a magical form of music, invented by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in eighteenth century. It comes in the category of classical stream and is played with piano. Mozart gained the interest of the scientists and researchers in the 20th century. In a study titled, “Evaluating the Effect of Mozart Music and White Noise” the researchers found that both Mozart and white noise(music less than 78 decibels) cause “cortical firing patterns”(Daud et al), which are used for processing cognitive signals. The highly structured nature of Mozart was compared to white noise, and it was suggested that white noise was more efficient in effective memorization or cognitive skills than Mozart Effect (Daud & Sudirman, 2017).

Studies Debunking Mozart Effect: Real or Myth

Many researchers believed that Mozart Effect was a myth, but they did not give any concrete proofs for their claims. The researchers have assumed that after listening to music, the nerve cells get fired and right part of the cerebral cortex becomes activated. This part of brain controls the highly efficient functions and researchers have found that any form of interesting music, changes up the brain cells just like an exercise session. So, the change in cells promotes the development of the brain. The research on Mozart Effect reveals the fact that; the music was played for a short time-period and it did not give any concrete proof of the rise in the IQ levels of the people.

A Harvard psychologist performed an in-depth analysis of 16 studies in the field of Mozart Effect and he found that the impact of this particular music was very negligible on human mind. So, he debunked the myth that the Mozart Effect occurs for long time. The study done in University of California, suggested that Mozart Effect was not related to cognition (Harvard Medical School, 2019).

Another researcher, E.Glenn Schellenberg, a Canadian psychologist, said that there can be multiple effects just like Mozart effect like “Schubert effect, Blur effect etc.” He said that any type of music (not specially Mozart) can improve the spatial skills of a person, but for a temporary period of time. Schellenberg also suggested that it is not the particular music which influences the IQ, but the after-effects of music, like- change in mood or emotions, influence the cognition levels. But, Schellenberg did not answer the question that, why music improves the mood. However, the answer lies in some of the neurological studies which state that music is the stimulant in triggering of “feel-good endorphins” (Honing), which impact the mood of the listener (Honing, 2014).

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In an article titled “Mozart Effect and Music Psychology”, another author Vaitsa Giannouli debunked the studies, which claimed that only Mozart’s music has the power to change the mood. The author said that all types of music can enhance the positive emotions. So, not only Mozart but all types of music boosts the positivity in the participants. However, Giannouli argued that there is no improvement in the “verbal or spatial” memory and that more studies are needed to describe the impact of Mozart on cognition levels. Giannouli also said that attributes like individual age or personality traits should be considered by the researchers, who support Mozart Effect.

Giannouli was not convinced with the research done by Rauscher and Shaw(1998), in which they studied the increase in cognition levels of the students after listening to Mozart Sonata (Giannouli, 2017). The answer to Giannouli’s confusion regarding relation between Mozart and spatial reasoning could be given by a study done on rats. JS Jenkins studied the impact of Mozart on rats. In this study the rats in three separate groups were exposed to Mozart music, white noise and Philip Glass’s music for 60 days, while they were in the uterus.

Then, their cognition levels were judged on the basis of a maze test. It was found that the rat groups which listened to the Mozart music finished the maze faster than their counterparts, who listened to Philip Glass or white noise. So, the spatial reasoning improved due to Mozart music. This experiment also proved that Mozart Effect was not a myth, but it did not suggest anything related to enhancement of cognition levels, after listening to Mozart (Nicholas, 2015).

Discussion

Mozart Effect is well-researched phenomenon, and it has been proven through many studies. The music has some patterns which resonate with the neural connections and cerebral cortex structure. In a research done by Michael Trimmel and colleagues, it was found that listening to Mozart activated the neural connections which were vital for the spatial reasoning ability. It was found that there were significant changes in the EEG (electroencephalogram) bands. These band measures were expressed in the form of “neuronal cortical circuits” (Trimmel, 2017), which process cognitive reasoning. The Mozart Sonata K.448, was actually a form of stimulated signals which were coming from two different, but similarly playing pianos.

After listening to these modulated signals of Mozart Sonata, there was a hyper activity in the neural pathways in the brain(neuroplasticity) hence, a corresponding development in the spatial skills. However, the results suggested that there was no relation between Mozart and “mood or arousal” (Trimmel, 2017). Hence, there is significant development in the spatial reasoning skills due to Mozart Effect, but no improvement in mood.

Shaw(1998) suggested that the patients who had Alzheimer’s showed improvement in the tasks with visual-spatial reasoning. The research was titled as, “Enhancement of Spatial temporal reasoning in Alzheimer’s Disease”(Rotaru et al), and it was done by Tasaki Shaw and his colleagues. Many studies were done after this research which showed that Mozart showed positive results (Rotaru et al). Such a study titled, “Adjunct Effect of Music on Alzheimer’s” by Chien-Hsun Li and colleagues. In the experiment two forms of music- Mozart Sonata and Pachelbel’s Canon were played for the control groups.

The subjects had to listen to the music for 30 minutes in the morning and before going to bed. The results showed improved levels of abstraction and controlled short term memory loss. The results of this study were in sync with an experiment which was conducted by John et al(1998). The results of the study suggested that Mozart activated the areas of cortex, but improvement in cognitive skills in Alzeheimer’s patients was not sure (Li et al, 2015). So, the research showed a possibility that cognition levels increased with improved levels of abstraction.

A study titled, “The Mozart Effect on Epileptiform Activity” by Hughes et al in which they tested the Mozart effect on patients with seizures. The results of the experiment showed a remarkable reduction in the epileptic seizures. The study also found that the patients responded to Mozart, even when they were in a state of unconsciousness. The researchers studied twenty nine patients, and found that even the drug- resistant patients showed improvement when they were put on music therapy (Pauwels et al, 2014). The reason for the improvement in the state of minds of the patients perhaps lies in Hughes study of brain maps while listening to music. The study revealed that, there was considerable decrease in the theta and alpha activities on the centermost areas of the brain, and the delta frequency increased on the front. However, the study did not confirm that Mozart’s unique structure resonated with the structure of the radial columns in cerebral cortex (Moscucci, 2015).

The part of human brain which resonates with the structure of musical composition is the cerebral cortex. It controls the auditory processing and controls the various frequencies of the music. The three parts of cerebral cortex- primary, secondary and tertiary lobes, control the motor and sensory functions. The elements of music like tone and frequency is primarily processed by the primary cerebral cortex, hence this part helps us to judge the music. The secondary part distinguishes between various harmonic patterns in a melody. Finally, the complicated parts in a musical sound are controlled by the tertiary part of the cortex. So, the human brain has inbuilt processor for distinguishing various forms of music (Altenmuller, 2000), and saying that only Mozart has capability to influence human brain, would be wrong.

Conclusion

Mozart Effect is no doubt, a real phenomenon. It would be wrong to say that there is no such effect. However, the studies which support this effect do not give any proof regarding the impact of Mozart on cognitive skills. The special structure of Mozart sonata resonates with the cerebral cortex, but it is same for all musical forms with harmonic musical patterns.

Some of the studies like the study of Alzheimer’s patients suggest a possibility that Mozart may have a minute impact on the cognition levels, but no research done till date has confirmed that Mozart makes the brain sharper. However, many studies given in the paper assert that there is definitely a rise in the spatial reasoning skills after listening to Mozart music (Nicholas, 2015). Hence, Mozart effect is real for spatial reasoning improvement, but nothing can be said about the cognitive skills.

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