Essay: Music and its relationship to IQ

“Having a musical background raises your IQ by 8-10 points!” “Listen to Mozart’s piano sonatas when studying and you’ll do better on your examinations, it helps you memorize more and retain the information.” These are one of the many stories I would read at the top of the newspaper headlines and was told by music teachers and as well as academic school teachers. This seemed outlandish to me since I always thought that IQ was coherently inheritable. I thought it was a measurement of the brain’s capacity to learn quickly and solve puzzles. I thought it was just a general idea that music made a person smarter came from an actual scientific source, but as many fragments of the “truth” that is portrayed in mass social media, the impression has been staggeringly distorted. The name for this specific idea is called the “Mozart Effect.”
To the typical suburban music teacher, parent, or even collegiate professors, the Mozart Effect means simply that music will make you smarter if you’re exposed to it. Many parents force their children take music lessons because of the claims from mass social media that it will improve the child’s intellectual capacity and responsiveness of their brain. I never knew the reasoning behind this and always thought of it as a theory or hoax by some professor of the classical music era that did not want it to die out. With the spur of new pop culture the classical musical works of musical geniuses like Beethoven and Mozart would eventually die out. As a devout follower of the classical arts, I would like to explore the rumors and controversy of the Mozart Effect and how can it affect our brain.
Don Campbell is a prevalent scholar on the topic of the Mozart Effect. He gives motivational speeches on how the music of Mozart is something that will make you smarter. “Campbell claims that he made a blood clot in his brain disappear by humming, praying, and envisioning a vibrating hand on the right side of his skull. . . One wonders if music were to be that beneficial, how did he get a blood clot in the first place? Accidentally listening to rap music?” (Carroll) Don Campbell is very good at inspiring those who already want to believe that music makes you smarter but if one were to thoroughly analyze Don Campbell’s claims, they would know how his claims were falsely overstated. The problem is when people hear something like “Mozart raises your intelligence just by listening to his music,” they look for a professional on the study and quickly find Don Campbell. They see his published books and the speeches and immediately assume he knows what he is talking about.
The idea that music can make you smarter is not just a publicity stunt propagated by Don Campbell but to scholars studying the effects of the “Mozart Effect,” is actually something much more specific than music making inducing cognitive abilities. The “Mozart Effect” was the term for findings of an experiment where “thirty-six undergraduates from the Psychology Department of the University of California, Irvine, scored 8 to 9 points higher on the spatial IQ reasoning test after listening to 10 minutes of Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, K. 448 as compared to taped self-hypnosis instructions or silence” (Rauscher 1994). The original experiment procedure conducted by Mangan, Bates, Stough, and Kerkin in 1994 included thirty-six undergraduate students were tested in a paper folding spatial-reasoning examination. After conducting the first examination, the undergraduate students were tested in three ways: First, the group was in complete silence before taking the exam. Second, the group listened to a portion of a Mozart Sonata for ten minutes before taking the exam. Finally, the group listened to a relaxation tape then took the exam. After the scientists scored each of the three examination procedures, they found “spatial IQ scores of 110, 119 and 111 respectively. Thus, the IQs of subjects participating in the music condition were 8-9 points above their IQ scores in the other two conditions. . . The enhancing effect of the music condition is temporal, and does not extend beyond the ten to fifteen minute period during which subjects were engaged in each spatial task” (Rauscher 1993). One flaw to this experiment would be that there were not any prolonged studies or experimentations on the long exposure to the music.
Because the original experiment failed to get the same findings (Nantais), Shaw and Rauscher duplicated the experiment. They claimed that Mangan and his colleagues used an altered test that did not quantify the same independent variables they sought out to conclude. In their duplicated experiment, they tested a total of eighty-six student that were equally divided into three groups over the course of two weeks. Instead of an undefined relaxation tape of the original experiment, the third group listened to different types of music every day. They listened to anything from minimalistic music to spoken story to British dance music. Although the first and second day of testing showed the same results “the scores of the silence and Mozart groups did not differ from each other on days three, four and five” (Rauscher 1994). The third group did not show any improvement from day to day, as the groups listening to nothing and Mozart had.
In 1999, another significant experimentation was conducted by Kristin M. Nantais and E. Glenn Schellenberg. They hypothesized that the listening results were a preference rather than listening to Mozart only. They ran two experimental procedures to test their hypothesis. The three groups being tested listened to Schubert, Mozart, a story, or sat in silence for the allotted time. Groups were then tested both in their preferred conditional testing environment and then in randomized environment. Their first experiment, where the contributors did not have a choice of environmental preference, duplicated the results of Shaw and Rauscher that the scores of those listening to Mozart and Schubert, scored higher on the examinations. After testing the participants based on their preference(s), Kristin M. Nantais and E. Glenn Schellenberg concluded:
Our findings made it clear that the Mozart effect had nothing to do with Mozart in particular…[B]ut findings imply that a similar effect might be evident when any positive stimulus are paired with a less engaging stimulus…[A]lthough performances in the Mozart and story conditions did not differ, listeners performed better following the condition they preferred. Rather, our results raise two possibilities. First, performance on spatial-temporal tasks may be enhanced after passive listening to a pleasant or interesting auditory stimulus. Second, decrements on such tasks may be the consequence of exposure to 10 min of a stimulus deemed to be relatively boring or unpleasant (Nantais).
Music has the potential to make someone smarter and experimental procedures are being conducted to prove the theory. My point is best summed up by the “Mozart Effect” has gotten so distorted it is difficult to perceive it in one form any longer. The indications follow a set path. A scientific research paper is published then it becomes a novel. It would then receive attention by the media, but then comes the over-analysis and many misconception practices. Not necessarily entirely from a inaccuracy of the media but also from the fact that we all believe almost everything portrayed by the media sometimes without questioning their research on that particular topic. My point is not that Campbell is incorrect and Rauscher is correct, but the data compiled through scientific experimentation speaks for itself and any conflictions among scientists can be reconciled given sufficient experimentation. Accuracy is needed in the science, mass media, and published textbooks then there might be a considerable probability that the accuracy needed can commit trickle-down effect to students.

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