The Mozart Effect : True or Bogus ?by Lucie Renaud
/ October 1, 1999
Do you believe in the power of Mozart's music? The media appears to be having
a field day with this new controversy, but is it really a matter for debate?
First of all, what is "the Mozart effect"? After reading Don
Campbell's book of the same title, it's apparent that, for him, therapeutic
results can come not only from Mozart's music, but can be obtained by humming or
dancing to an upbeat melody or by listening to a piece of music one finds
What kind of music works best is a personal decision; the only warning would
be not to use music played too loudly. That said, the human voice is the most
potent tool available to alleviate sadness and pain. This notion helps explain
why there is such a devoted public for operatic performances. The audience seems
to thrive on neither the setting nor the orchestra, but on the opera singers
sustaining those gloriously long high notes. The listeners await the climax of
each aria: when the singer performs it well, they derive intense pleasure from
the liberation of their tensions.
The general public first heard about "the Mozart effect" in 1993
when Dr. Frances Rauscher studied 36 undergraduate psychology students at the
University of California in Irvine. After listening to 10 minutes of Mozart's Sonata
for 2 pianos in D major K.448, the students scored a full 8 or 9 points
higher on IQ tests. The boost was temporary, lasting between 10 and 15 minutes,
but nevertheless, Dr. Rauscher and her team established that the increase in IQ
scores was a direct effect of some unique aspect of Mozart's music. Of course,
the media interpreted the findings by stating "Mozart makes you
smarter". The next day, record stores all over the USA were stormed by
hopeful buyers who cleaned out all the Mozart CDs from their shelves.
A few months ago, Kenneth Steele and his team of scientists at Appalachian
State University tried to duplicate the study (increasing the number of subjects
and diversifying the ages), but failed to obtain the same results. This
rekindled the public debate about "the Mozart effect." What seems to
be forgotten here is that the first study was performed on college students, not
on young kids. The research team didn't analyse the brain of the students; they
just examined behaviour. Dr. Rauscher, now a professor at University of
Wisconsin, tried to dampen the media frenzy. In an interview to the New York
Times, she voiced her concern that gross generalisations could hurt the
scientists' credibility. "I am all for exposing children to wonderful
cultural experiences. But I do think the money would be better spent on music
education programs," she said.
Perhaps the debate is shallow. After all, music's virtues won't probably ever
be fully comprehended by the scientific community. In the long run, it doesn't
matter--we should simply be glad that the studies directed greater attention in
our society to music.
ALFRED A. TOMATIS: "DOCTOR MOZART"
As an ear, nose and throat specialist, surgeon, psychologist and
inventor, Dr. Tomatis has been studying the ear's significance for the last 50
years. Nicknamed "Dr. Mozart" by his patients, he was the first to
mention "the Mozart effect." He devised a unique method to help people
with learning disabilities (Tomatis' method is especially useful in treating
autism) or behaviour problems.
According to Tomatis, the ear's primary function is to help grow the brain of
the unborn child. In spite of all of the other sounds surrounding him (mother's
heartbeat, circulation, digestion), the fetus can recognise the maternal voice
as early as 4 1/2 months before birth. It is as essential to his growth as food
is. The umbilical cord feeds the body while the sound waves nourish the brain.
After birth, the ear charges the neo-cortex and therefore ignites the entire
Our nervous system can be "charged" or "discharged" by
the sounds around us. High frequencies (such as those found frequently in
Mozart's violin concertos) energise the brain. The lower ones drain all energy
away. To use sound in a positive manner, Dr. Tomatis prescribes sonic therapy
instead of medication. In doing so, his goal is to rebuild the inner ear's
muscles so that the ear can once again differentiate all the frequencies of
surrounding sounds. This retraining of the ear is done through "the
electronic ear," Tomatis' own invention. in which modified headphones
transmit sound through the bones as well as through air. Tapes of Mozart's music
(specially-filtered to amplify the higher frequencies) are used, as well as
recordings of the mother's voice (when available) and some Gregorian chants.
Tomatis also discovered that the human voice can reproduce only the
frequencies perceived by the ear. He demonstrated that one ear is always
dominant in the listening process, and that the analysis of sounds is easier to
achieve when the right ear listens first. This finding was of particular
interest to singers and musicians. In his autobiography The Conscious Ear,
Tomatis recalls how Maria Callas came to him, unable to pursue her singing
career because she had become unable to hear properly with her right ear.
Tomatis retrained her inner ear and she was able to return the concert circuit
with great success.
Today, the Tomatis method is used in over 250 centres worldwide, staffed by
specialists in psychology, medicine, education, speech therapy and music.
CD REVIEW: "MOZART EFFECT: MUSIC FOR CHILDREN"
"The Mozart effect" has become a big marketing operation.
Several record producers are trying to renew the interest of the public in their
Mozart catalogues by underlining the supposed benefits. I listened to a three-CD
compilation endorsed by Don Campbell that promised to "open the minds"
of children (young and old). The insert presents only the positive side of the
story, of course. The music is supposed to be used as background music while
other activities are performed. According to the literature, the effect will
vanish after 25 minutes (too bad for those Mozart symphonies which happen to be
28 minutes long!).
I have to say that my musically-trained ear would have resisted
ingesting more than the prescribed 25 minutes of some rather strange
arrangements of the master's music. Mozart's music, when performed in a
non-professional manner, can be as offensive as heavy metal! When presented in
their original instrumentation however, the experience was much more pleasant. I
must say here that the kids who listened in with me seem to have enjoyed
themselves thoroughly. To be savoured sip by sip!