Researchers: listening to Mozart won’t make you smarter

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© The Gallery Collection/Corbis

A 1993 study showing that students who did reasoning tests while listening to the 1781 Sonata for Two Pianos in D by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart tended to outperform those who did so in a silent room launched a widespread belief in what is commonly referred to as “the Mozart effect.”

As the Telegraph reported earlier this week, the findings prompted parents and childcare centers to play the composer’s works for their little ones, inspired expecting moms to pump Mozart’s music through headphones on their bellies, and even encouraged the state of Georgia to give out free CDs of the composer’s work to new parents. Yet despite the broad embrace of the theory, critics have long wondered if it has any actual merit. (As the AFP reports, the “Mozart effect” is ranked number six in the 2009 book 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology.)

And a new inquiry from researchers in Vienna sides with the skeptics: in a review of 40 studies including some 3,000 people, psychologists at Vienna University found no evidence that listening to Mozart actually makes people smarter. They did find that people who listened to music while completing reasoning tests performed better than those who took the tests in silence — but that was true whether they were listening to Mozart, Bach or Pearl Jam, the AFP reports, reinforcing the notion that it’s external stimulus that contributes to improved performance, not Amadeus.

Of course, researchers still encouraged people to listen to Mozart — if for nothing more than pure enjoyment. As investigator Jakob Pietschnig told the AFP: “I recommend everyone listen to Mozart, but it’s not going to improve cognitive abilities as some people hope.”