Have you ever heard about the theory that music from Mozart can make people smarter? Most of you probably have. This theory is called the Mozart effect. Of course, everybody has different opinions and experiences about the Mozart effect. Studies have indeed shown that there is almost no correlation between Mozart’s music and enhancing intelligence. However, the same group of studies also hint that other musicians might have the same effect as Mozart.
The Origins of the Mozart Effect
The Mozart Effect was first coined in 1993 by a study published in Nature. The study claims that listening to classical music or Mozart’s music causes subjects to perform better on certain tasks. Specifically, their spatial reasoning skills were enhanced. To understand the outcome of this test, let’s look at it in more detail.
For the control of the test, they test the subject under complete silence. Secondly, the subjects were asked to take the test while listening to ‘Verbal Relaxation Instructions”, that they claim to be able to lower blood pressure. Lastly, the subjects were tested while listening to Mozart’s sonatas.
The results of the test all point to the conclusion that listening to Mozart does make you smarter. At the very least, it can make subjects perform better at spatial reasoning. Firstly, the test takers had, on average, better scores when listening to Mozart. Secondly, the enhancing effects were only temporary and only work when listening to Mozart.
What ensues after the study eventually built the foundation of the Mozart effect to blow up to pop culture. In 1994, the New York Times music columnist, Alex Ross, wrote that Mozart dethroned Beethoven as “the world’s greatest composer” due to the ability to make people smarter. In 1997, Don Campell made a book called “The Mozart Effect” (shown above), which talks about the ability of Mozart’s music to heal the body and strengthen the mind.
The Aftermath and Personal Experiences
We already know what comes after all of this. About 80 percent of American adults think that music can improve children’s intelligence. Countless classical music playlists on YouTube and Spotify got created for infant music.
Apparently, my mother also got tricked by the Mozart effect hype. When I was still a little fetus, she played classical music, specifically Mozart’s, hoping that I can listen to it. Sadly, I was not born smart and got one of the lowest IQ scores in my whole class during high school. Furthermore, I personally feel that I perform the worst in the spatial reasoning section. I, personally, have also fallen into the trap of the Mozart Effect. Yes, I tried listening to Mozart’s music before exams in the hopes of learning the materials faster. Of course, I didn’t perform better the next day. So does Mozart’s music actually make you smarter? To answer this question, we must understand what actually can make us “smarter”.
What Makes Us “Smarter”?
Of course, we cannot gain any IQ just by listening to music. Becoming smarter requires you to study and practice. Moreover, IQ is something that you are born with and can hardly improve. Thus, making us “smarter” here actually refers to concentration.
If you are able to concentrate while studying, working, or doing your exams, you will undoubtedly perform better. Although you might have felt as if you have become smarter, in reality, it is just your brain being able to concentrate and focusing all of its efforts on one single work. So, we must now rephrase the question to be: what can make us concentrate better.
To finally answer this question, we must understand some parts of our brain called the Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas.
Broca’s and Wernicke’s Areas
Broca’s area is responsible for speech production. Wernicke’s area is responsible for speech comprehension. Thus, these 2 components in our brain work hand in hand to enable us to converse.
Causing damage to these structures will cause the person to have a condition called Aphasia. If there is damage in the Broca’s area, the person will completely understand the language but will have difficulty producing the in words. It is similar to stammering, although they are completely different conditions. Having damage in the Wernicke’s area will cause the person to talk gibberish as they cannot understand language, similar to what politicians do best.
Furthermore, Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas play a key role in subvocalization. Subvocalization is the voice inside your head when you are thinking or reading a book. If you are reading a book in complete silence with no distractions, the two areas will produce the “inner voice” with no problem. But if someone is shouting at you, the 2 areas will be overloaded, and you lose your concentration. That is why you cannot shout or speak loudly in the library. That is also why coffee shops are also a perfect place to study or work. Since there is too much background noise, your brain can’t tune in to one distinct or understandable voice. As a result, your subvocalization is not disturbed. However, complete silence might also not be beneficial as small noises, such as coughs or pen strokes, will be amplified as a distraction.
Before we conclude, let’s go back to the initial study. We know that complete silence will amplify small noises that disturb our subvocalization. Verbal instructions will also not help the subjects’ concentration. Because of that, listening to Mozart as their background music will ultimately help the subject to perform better in the test.
I hope now you understand why Mozart’s music, out of all music, was thought to make you smarter (or concentrate better). Since there are no understandable lyrics that your brain can lock into, you will be able to subvocalize. But this doesn’t mean that Beethoven’s music, Chopin’s music, or any classical music can’t make you concentrate better. This also means that if you don’t understand English, then technically Justin Bieber’s music can make you “smarter”.
In reality, it boils down to personal taste. The Mozart Effect didn’t work in my experience, so I improvised and found out that techno music works best for me. But if you want a general guideline in finding the music that will boost your concentration, find the ones with no understandable lyrics.
Featured Image by Baltimore Symphony Orchestra