The Mozart Myth
Shortly before my first child was born, the governor of my state -- Zell Miller, now a U.S. Senator -- made a startling announcement: Every baby born in Georgia would receive a free classical music CD at the hospital. This wasn't just some bonus prize for being born; it was a start to making Georgians smarter. "Listening to music at a very early age affects the spatial, temporal reasoning that underlies math and engineering and even chess," the governor's statement said. Wow, I thought, all that from a CD? My soon-to-be Georgia peach would be smarter than her mom and dad combined.
We got our CD, but it turns out that in the world of baby smarts, as in life, there are no quick, easy, free solutions. Governor Miller, who based his initiative on an article in Time magazine, got it a wee bit wrong. In fact, the much-referenced study, which gave rise to the phrase "the Mozart Effect," showed that college-age students who listened to Mozart for 10 minutes did better on a spatial relations test a few minutes later. The Mozart Effect, such as it was, was specific, fleeting, and had nothing whatsoever to do with babies.
Nevertheless, the study managed to make believers of a whole generation of new parents who got sucked into buying all manner of pint-size instruments and musical toys and enrolling their 4-month-olds in music classes. The trend seemed to be a side effect of bad science reporting in the popular press over the last decade or so.
In addition to the myths about the Mozart Effect -- and the ensuing number of musical toys with grand claims about making babies smarter -- there was a lot of ink devoted to the importance of the first three years of life. Parents were sold on the "use it or lose it" theory -- the notion that unless certain areas of the brain (those that would turn Johnny into a brilliant mathematician, for instance) were stimulated in those crucial early months of life, the window of opportunity would snap shut, never to open again. Classical music was considered an important stimulus, so a parent who failed to play hours of the stuff for her infant was clearly irresponsible.
Well, all those parents out there can relax. "There is no scientific research on the effect listening to music has on a baby's intelligence," says Frances Rauscher, PhD, a psychologist with the University of Wisconsin and the lead researcher on the college-student study that launched all the brouhaha. Our Mozart Effect research was blown way out of proportion."