Essay: ‘The Mozart Effect’: Can classical music improve your academic ability?

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  • Subject area(s): Music Essays
  • Reading time: 16 minutes
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  • Published on: July 14, 2019
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  • Number of pages: 2
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My Extended Project Qualification topic choice is the ‘Mozart Effect’. I have decided to focus on the effects of classical music, especially Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major Key K.448, and its effects on cognitive ability and spatial reasoning. As well as this, I will be looking into the original 1991 and 1993 study of ‘Music and Spatial Task Performance: A Casual Relationship’ by Frances H. Rauscher, Gordon L. Shaw, Linda J. Levine and Katherine N. Ky from the University of California, Irvine at the Irvine Conservatory of Music.

What is the Mozart Effect?

The ‘Mozart Effect’ is a theory suggesting that listening to Mozart’s music will temporarily improve cognitive ability and spatial reasoning within the minds of children and adults alike. The study was originally carried out in 1991 by Frances H. Rauscher, Gordon L. Shaw, Linda J. Levine, and Katherine N. Ky at the University of California, Irvine on 36 university students. The ‘Mozart Effect’ study was carried out because Leng, Shaw and Wright were inspired by a model of the brain’s neuronal cortex to test the hypothesis that music and spatial task performance were ‘causally’ related.

The lead researcher Dr Gordon Shaw began looking into the brain’s capacity for spatial reasoning 1973 (The Associated Press) and then in the 1990’s he went on to develop the theory that listening to classical music could improve academic abilities, commonly known as the ‘Mozart Effect’.

Why The ‘Mozart Effect’?

Inspiration for looking more into this theory came from a structured model of the brain’s cortex that inferred that music and cognitive ability share a natural firing pattern that are organised in a similar way through a structured spatial-temporal code. This suggestion sparked a belief that the correlation between music and spatial/cognitive abilities is due to cultivation of pattern development by groups of neurons brought about by musical operations. The original study was “intended to determine if the neural firing patterns relevant to musical understanding were also relevant to spatial-temporal reasoning” (Rauscher, 2018)

Dr Gordon Shaw started to develop the theory surrounding the Mozart Effect in the early 1970’s when he came interested in brain theory and the brain’s capacity for spatial reasoning. Shaw and one of his graduate student Xiaodan Leng developed a model of the brain that used musical notes to show brain activity, when the notes were played back they found it to sound a lot like classical music.

However Dr Gordon Shaw was not the only person captivated by this idea. A French man by the name of Alfred A. Tomatis also looked into the co-dependence of music in the brain and published a book in 1991 called ‘Pourquoi Mozart? (Why Mozart?) Yet Tomatis focused more on how Mozart’s music can retrain the ear at different frequencies, having a positive effect on the ear, healing and development of the brain.

Special reasoning and cognitive ability

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