The Mozart Effect

Wayne Staab
September 24, 2012

What is the Mozart Effect?

Jennifer Gonzalez, B.A. 
Musiek photo

Frank Musiek, Ph.D

Frank Muskik, Ph.D.
Editor’s Note:  A simple conversation with Dr. Musiek often leads to rather interesting topics of discussion and subsequent investigation.  Such was the case when he asked me what I knew about the the “Mozart Effect” – which was nothing.  The result of that conversation is the following article.  W. Staab

Jennifer Gonzalez, B.A.

First described in the book, Pourqoui Mozart? (1991) by Alfred A. Tomatis {{1}}[[1]] Tomatis, A.A. (1991).  Pourquoi Mozart? Paris, France: Diffusion, Hachette[[1]], a French inventor and otolaryngologist, the Mozart effect is a phenomenon describing an immediate and temporary improvement in spatial-temporal abilities of individuals after having listened to music.  Tomatis used Mozart’s compositions in his attempts to remediate various disorders such as learning disabilities, dyslexia, and attentional deficits, as he thought that the wide range of frequencies, intensities, and tempos present in the music could improve performance on auditory processing tasks.

Shortly after the release of Tomatis’ book, Rauscher, Shaw, and Ky (1993) {{2}}[[2]] Rauscher, F.H., Shaw, G.L., & Ky, K.N. (1993).  Music and spatial task performance.  Nature, 365(6447), 611[[2]] published a paper in Nature reviewing their investigations into the effect.  These researchers divided their subject sample into three groups.  Each group was given three sets of standard IQ spatial reasoning tasks (a pattern analysis test, a multiple-choice matrices test, and a multiple-choice paper folding and cutting test), which were preceded by ten minutes of listening to one of the three following stimuli: Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major (K.448), a relaxation tape, or silence.

Scores on the spatial IQ tasks yielded scores of 119 for the Mozart condition, 111 for the relaxation tape condition, and 110 for the silence condition.  Statistical analyses via repeated measures ANOVA found that those subjects who listened to Mozart performed significantly better on the spatial reasoning tasks than those subjects who listened to either the relaxation tape or silence, while the relaxation tape and silence conditions did not differ.  This improvement in task performance was temporary, however, and only endured for approximately 10-15 minutes after termination of the listening conditions.  A 1995 study by these same authors {{3}}[[3]] Rauscher, F.H., Shaw, G.L., & Ky, K.N. (1995).  Listening to Mozart enhances spatial-temporal reasoning: Towards a neurophysiological basis.  Neuroscience Letters, 185(1), 44-47 [[3]] found that the effect was unique to exposure to Mozart’s K.448 Sonata, as “repetitive” music and taped short stories did not produce the same enhancement in spatial reasoning abilities.

Wolfgang Amadaus Mozart
Austrian composer (1756-91)

Conflicting Research Results

Although Rauscher et al. have demonstrated the Mozart effect in several of their studies over the years {{4}}[[4]] Rauscher, F.H. & Shaw, G.L. (1998).  Key components of the Mozart Effect.  Perceptual and Motor Skills, 86(3 Pt 1), 835-841[[4]], researchers from other laboratories around the world have reported difficulty in replicating the effect (Kenealy & Monsef, 1994 {{5}}[[5]] Kenealy, P. & Monsef, A. (1994).  Music and IQ tests.  The Psychologist, 7, 346 [[5]]; Stough, Kerkin, Bates, & Mangan, 1994 {{6}}[[6]] Stough, C., Kerkin, B., Bates, T., & Mangan, G. (1994).  Music and spatial IQ.  Personality and Individual Differences, 17, 695 [[6]]; Carstens, Huskins, & Hounshell, 1995 {{7}}[[7]] Carstens, C.B., Huskins, E., & Hounshell, G.W. (1995).  Listening to Mozart may not enhance performance on the revised Minnesota paper form board test.  Psychological Reports, 77, 111-114[[7]]).  For example, Steele, Bass, and Crook (1999) {{8}}[[8]] Steele, K.M., Bass, K.E., & Crook, M.D. (1999).  The mystery of the Mozart Effect: Failure to replicate.  Psychological Science, 10(4), 366-369[[8]] studied 125 participants divided into three groups.  Each group was assigned one of the three following listening conditions:  the first 8 minutes 24 seconds of Mozart’s K.448 Sonata, an equivalent duration of Philip Glass’s more repetitive Music with Changing Parts, or silence.

Assessment of spatial reasoning abilities was conducted through use of the Stanford-Binet Paper Folding and Cutting (PF&C) task in both pre- and post-listening conditions on different days.  Although the music conditions produced the greatest net improvements in task performance, improvements were found in the silent condition as well and differences between the three groups failed to reach significance. When researchers are successful in replicating the findings of Raucher et al., the question that invariably follows is this: are the improvements in task performance the direct result of listening to the music itself or are they the indirect result of arousal and mood changes?

In their original 1993 work demonstrating the Mozart effect, Rauscher et al. controlled for arousal effects by measuring the pulse of each subject before and after each listening condition.  Arousal was not found to have had an interaction or main effect on their results.  In their 2001 study, Thompson, Schellenberg, and Husain {{9}}[[9]] Thompson, W.F., Schellenberg, E.G., & Husain, G. (2001).  Arousal, mood, and the Mozart Effect.  Psychological Science, 12(3), 248-251[[9]] found improvements in spatial reasoning task performance in individuals who listened to Mozart’s K.448 Sonata; however, the statistical significance of these improvements disappeared once enjoyment, arousal, and mood measures were incorporated as affective controls.


Possible Explanations for Variability in Outcomes

The differences seen across researchers and laboratories in their successes or failures in demonstrating the Mozart effect may be the result of slight deviations from the original methodology used which yielded success.  Another explanation for the discrepancy among reported data includes the possibility that within-subject factors may be influencing experimental results to varying degrees.  Examples of such possibilities include subject familiarity with assessment tasks, subject familiarity with the test environment, test anxiety, and task learning.  If a subject is not familiar with or is uncomfortable in the test environment, this could translate into lower than expected pre-listening assessment results.  Once the subject is tested post-listening condition, the results obtained could be more reflective of the person’s true spatial reasoning ability.  It is possible, then, that this pre-listening assessment could be artificially widening the gap of improvement across listening conditions.  Variability in the disposition of subjects could lead one or more groups of subjects to be biased toward a greater yield of improvement due to the lower initial assessment scores.  Also, if only one assessment measure is used for pre- and post-listening measurements, it is possible that subjects improve across groups due to a task learning effect.  This learning effect, as it would be present across groups, could lead investigators to conclude that the Mozart effect is not measureable and therefore, not replicable.

Rauscher et al. used three tasks of spatial reasoning in their original measurement of the Mozart effect, whereas some of the later work of other researchers used only one of these three tasks (Picture Folding & Cutting).   If a learning effect exists and is affecting experimental outcomes, it is possible that a single-task, pre- and post-listening assessment design could be enhancing the performance of all individuals participating in these studies in the post-listening assessment.  This is because it is likely easier for an individual to learn a single task, consciously or subconsciously, and have memory carryover from pre- to post-listening assessment than it would be for that individual to demonstrate the same learning effect on three separate behavioral spatial reasoning tasks.


Use of Objective Measures & Future Directions

Research on the Mozart effect has largely focused on the use of subjective behavioral measurements in the determination of whether the effect is obtainable and replicable.  For the methodological and within-subject differences mentioned above, it would be valuable to explore the possibility of measuring the Mozart effect by using objective pre- and post-listening assessment procedures.  The auditory P300 event-related potential (ERP) is a viable candidate for the objective investigation of the effect due to its correlations with cognition and cognitive decline {{10}}[[10]] Polich, J., Ehlers, C.L., Otis, S., Mandell, A.J., & Bloom, F.E. (1986).  P300 latency reflects the degree of cognitive decline in dementing illness.  Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology, 63(2), 138-144[[10]].  Given the inherent auditory spatial-temporal nature of the auditory P300 task and that the Mozart effect acts on spatial-temporal reasoning, the effect may be measured directly in this way instead of by using behavioral tasks that indirectly approach these abilities.

It would also be relevant to investigate how an auditory task such as listening to Mozart affects performance on a task based strictly on auditory delivery such as the auditory P300.  Although research using the visual P300 ERP has been done {{11}}[[11]] Zhu, W., Zhao, L., Zhang, J., Ding., X., Liu, H., Ni, E., Ma, Y., & Zhou, C. (2008).  The influence of Mozart’s sonata K.448 on visual attention: An ERPs study.  Neuroscience Letters, 434(1), 35-40[[11]], a great deal of these experimental paradigms utilize the ERP as a method of recording activity during the music listening task {{12}}[[12]] Caldwell, G.N. & Riby, L.M. (2007).  The effects of music exposure and own genre preference on conscious and unconscious cognitive processes: A pilot ERP study.  Consciousness and Cognition 16(4), 992-996[[12]]{{13}}[[13]] Jausovec, N. & Habe, K.  (2004).  The influence of auditory background stimulation (Mozart’s sonata K. 448) on visual brain activity.  International Journal of Psychophysiology, 51(3), 261-271[[13]], and they are also attempting to evaluate an auditorily-provoked phenomenon through a visually-presented task.  Exposure to both music and evaluation of the Mozart effect through the same auditory modality could provide insight not only into whether the effect exists and is replicable, but it may also give way to gauging whether the effects are specific to the auditory system if the effect is, in fact, demonstrable.  Lastly, as musical training has gained increasing attention in recent years as a remediation for central auditory dysfunction, investigation into improved auditory spatial reasoning performance following exposure to Mozart’s K.448 Sonata may also introduce further discussion of the efficacy of musical training for individuals with (Central) Auditory Processing Disorder and in cases of central deafness.

About the Authors

Jennifer Gonzalez received a B.A. in Communication Disorders from California State University, Long Beach in May 2010.  She is currently enrolled in the Dual Au.D/Ph.D. Program at the University of Connecticut, and her research interests include central auditory processing, electrophysiology, and tinnitus.

Frank Musiek is Professor and Director of Auditory Research at the University of Connecticut.  He has published over 150 articles in peer reviewed journals in the areas of evoked potentials, central auditory disorders, neuroaudiology, and human neuroanatomy.

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