The phrase Mozart Effect conjures an image of a pregnant woman who, putting headphones conspicuously over her belly, is convinced that playing classical music to her unborn child will improve the kids' intelligence. But is there science to back up this idea, which has brought about a cottage industry of books, CDs and videos？
A short paper published in Nature in 1993 unwittingly introduced the supposed Mozart effect to the masses. Psychologist Frances Rauscher's study involved 36 college kids who listened to either 10 minutes of a Mozart sonata, a relaxation track or silence before performing several spatial reasoning tasks. In one test——determining what a paper folded several times over and then cut might look like when unfolded——students who listened to Mozart seemed to show significant improvement in their performance (by about eight to nine spatial IQ points).
In addition to a flood of commercial products in the wake of the finding, in 1998 then——Georgia governor Zell Miller mandated that mothers of newborns in the state be given classical music CDs. And in Florida, day care centers were required to broadcast symphonies through their sound systems.
Earlier this year, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in Germany published a second review study from a cross-disciplinary team of musically inclined scientists who declared the phenomenon nonexistent. I would simply say that there is no compelling evidence that children who listen to classical music are going to have any improvement in cognitive abilities, adds Rauscher, now an associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. It's really a myth, in my humble opinion.
Rather than passively listening to music, Rauscher advocates putting an instrument into the hands of a youngster to raise intelligence. She cites a 1997 University of California, Los Angels, study that found that, among 25,000 students, those who had spent time involved in a musical pursuit tested higher on SATs and reading proficiency exams than those with no instruction in music.
Despite its rejection by the scientific community, companies like Baby Genius continue to peddle classical music to parents of children who can supposedly listen their way to greater smarts.
Chabris says the real danger isn't in this questionable marketing, but in parents shirking roles they are evolutionarily meant to serve. It takes away from other kinds of interaction that might be beneficial for children, such as playing with them and keeping them engaged via social activity. That is the key to a truly intelligent child, not the symphonies of a long-dead Austrian composer.——《Times》