The Mozart Effect Controversy


There has been considerable media coverage given to the latest in psychological research from the Appalachian State University study challenging the Mozart Effect as well a book titled the Myth of the First Three Years (The Free Press, John T. Bruer ) which would have us believe that these first years aren’t nearly as important or critical to learning as we have been led to believe.

On Wednesday, August 25, 1999 an article apeared in the scientific peer review journal Nature citing Christopher Chabris of the Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts presenting an analysis of 17 studies and suggesting that the (Mozart) effect is less than would arise by chance. In the same issue of Nature, Kenneth Steele of the Department of Psychology, Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina and colleagues try, and fail, to replicate the original result, and Rauscher defends her original conclusions from these two attacks.

Rauscher stresses that popular misconceptions that her work showed a relationship between listening to Mozart and general intelligence have arisen. Her original result, which is, she claims, upheld by other studies, reported ONLY AN IMPROVEMENT IN TASKS INVOLVING ORDERING OBJECTS IN SPACE AND TIME.

The initial music brain study, conducted by Drs. Shaw and Rauscher suggested that students exposed to 10 minutes of music by Mozart, specifically Allegro conspirito from Sonata for Two Pianos in D major, K448 caused an enhancement in reasoning (ordering objects in space and time) lasting from some 10-15 minutes.

This study led to other studies, including the one noted in Neurological Research in February 1997 stating that 6 months of piano keyboard training causes enhancement of spatial-temporal reasoning in preschool children lasting several days.

Dr. Norman Weinberger, Executive Director of the International Foundation for Music Research, responded to the Appalachian State University study. He replied, “Many studies have failed to replicate the Shaw/Rauscher original Mozart effect of passive listening.

Fran Rauscher wrote an article explaining the failures… there have also been some successes. I would be extremely cautious about arguing that passive listening to music briefly produces an “increase in IQ” (even transiently). The major transfer effects of music are likely to come from active playing of music and in continual music education experiences.”

ACTIVE MUSIC MAKING, NOT PASSIVE LISTENING is the key to enhanced spatial-temporal reasoning (higher math skills require this). That is not to say that there isn’t a benefit to passive listening, just that research has been focused on active participation. We will continue to keep you posted on the debate.

Dr. Shaw continues his research on the brain and the cumulative total of his work (25 years) will appear in his book, Keeping Mozart in Mind, (Academic Press) which is due in bookstores on September 7, 1999.
AMC has been working with the media throughout the past two weeks to be sure that a balanced story appears in each article challenging the Shaw/Rauscher research. Our media contacts at major outlets have indicated a very strong interest in discussing Dr. Shaw’s new book, as well as his views on the research.
We will keep you posted with continued updates as we hear about them.

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