Psychology Myths 5 of 5

Myth #5 You can increase the intelligence of babies by playing Mozart's Music

       These posts always start with the percentages of believers. In the case of this myth, it is 73% of psychology students (they were barely taking the introductory course) who believe that Mozart's music affects intelligence (Taylor & Kowalski, 2003, p. 5). In addition, two surveys conducted by Bangerter & Heath (2004) found that over 80% of Americans were acquainted with the effect.


Once upon a time, in 1993 there was an article titled "Music and spatial task performance" in the journal "Nature." The article was about an experiment that looked at what happened after college students listened to a Mozart piano sonata for 10 minutes. The results were that the students displayed a short-term improvement in a spatial reasoning task (Rauscher, Shaw, KY, 1993). This article served as the basis for the Mozart Effect.

       As you can see the experiment only had to do with spatial ability and the effect lasted between 10 and 15 minutes; however, the results shifted from a short-term positive effect on spatial reasoning to long-term effect on intelligence. Moreover, in 1991, physician Alfred Tomatis coined the term "The Mozart Effect," and, in 1997, musician Don Campbell helped popularize the idea that Mozart's music increased intelligence. Of course the popular press caught a sniff of the story and blew it out of proportions. 

Why is it so prevalent?

       The stories written by the press led companies to create all sorts of products marketed towards babies. The spectrum of these products range from music CDs to books. The most popular CD of Don Campbell had sold over two million copies by 2003 (Nelson, 2003). Another reason that helps this myth be alive is the fact that some people confuse correlation with causation (correlation means that there is a relationship between two variables like x influences y, or y influences x, or x influences z which in turn influences y, not that one causes the other). Believers and people who spread the myth use correlational studies as proof that the effect is real. For example, a study found that there was an association between musical talent and IQ (Lynn, Wilson, & Gault, 1989).

The distorted claim spread like wildfire and according to psychologists Adrian Bangerter and Chip Heath (2004) the twisted assertion changed more over time. An example of this is the 2000 Chinese article that asserted that there were experiments that proved that listening to Mozart affected intelligence in babies, even during gestation (South China Morning Post, 2000, as cited in Bangerter & Health, 2004). Another article that made a similar claim was written in 2001 and published in the Journal Sentinel. However, this article included not only babies, but also elementary and high school students (Kravovsky, 2005).


I'm not talking about Justin Bieber's fans, but rather people who blindly trust this myth. These people include the coach of the New York Jets football team who played Mozart's music while his team practiced. But the most incredible one is the ex-Governor Zell Miller, who in 1998 included more than $105,000 in the budget in order to give every newborn a CD of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (Mercer, 2010; Sack, 1998). Moreover, the State Senate of Florida passed a bill that resembled Miller's actions (State of Florida Senate Bill 660, May 21, 1998).

What is the real effect?

       Several replication studies found that there was either a small effect or  none at all (Gray & Della Sala, 2007; McKelvie & Low, 2002). The effect, which lasted less than an hour, was an increase of two IQ points (Chabris, 1999; Steele, Bass, & Crook, 1999). But was it the music of Mozart that created this short-term effect? Another study may shed some light into this. In this experiment, the researcher got students to listen to an upbeat song by Mozart, silence, and a slow song by composer Albinoni. They found that the piece by Mozart affected the given task (folding and cutting paper), but it also influenced the emotional arousal of participants (Thompson, Schellenberg, & Husain, 2001). The Mozart effect vanished when statistical techniques  were utilized to "equalize for the effects of emotional arousal across the three experimental conditions(Lilienfeld, 2010). This could mean that the emotional arousal was the cause of the Mozart effect, instead of the music. This is backed up by the experiment that showed that a paragraph by Stephen King and a piece by Mozart had the same impact on a spatial ability task (Nantais & Schellenberg, 1999). Additional evidence supports the hypothesis that anything that arouses individuals emotionally will influence demanding tasks (Jones, West, & Estell, 2006; Steele, 2000). In other words, music does not have anything to do with the Mozart effect (Gray & Della Sala, 2007).

Feel free to leave a comment, questions, concerns, or suggestions.


Bangerter, A., & Heath, C. (2004). The Mozart Effect: Tracking the evolution of a scientific legend. British Journal of Social Psychology, 43, 1–37. 

Chabris, C. F. (1999). Prelude or requiem for the ‘Mozart effect’? Nature, 400, 826–827. 

Gray, C., & Della Sala, S. (2007). The Mozart effect: It’s time to face the music! In S. Della Sala (Ed.), Tall tales about the mind and brain (pp. 148–157). Oxford: Oxford University 

Jones, M. H., West, S. D., & Estell, D. B. (2006). The Mozart effect: Arousal, preference, and spatial performance. Psychology and Aesthetics, 1, 26–32. 

Krakovsky, M. (2005, May). Dis-chord of the “Mozart effect”. Stanford Business Magazine. Retrieved March 24, 2008 from 

Lilienfeld, S. (2010). 50 great myths of popular psychology: Shattering widespread misconceptions about human behavior. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

Lynn, R., Wilson, R. G., & Gault, A. (1989). Simple musical tests as measures of Spearman’s g. Personality and Individual Dif erences, 10, 25–28.

McKelvie, P., & Low, J. (2002). Listening to Mozart does not improve children’s spatial ability: Final curtains for the Mozart effect. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 20, 241–258. 

Mercer, J. (2010). Child development: Myths and misunderstandings. New York: Sage

Nelson, C. (2003, January 10). Mozart and the miracles. The Guardian. Retrieved September 12, 2008 from,,871350,00.xhtml 

Rauscher, F. H., Shaw, G. L., & Ky, K. N. (1993). Music and spatial task performance. Nature, 365, 611.

Sack, K. (1998, January 15). Georgia’s governor seeks musical start for babies. The New York Times, A–12. 

Steele, K. M. (2000). Arousal and mood factors in the “Mozart effect”. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 91, 188–190. 

Steele, K. M., Bass, K. E., & Crook, M. D. (1999). The mystery of the Mozart effect: Failure to replicate. Psychological Science, 10, 366–369. 

Taylor, A. K., & Kowalski, P. (2003, August). Media influences on the formation of misconceptions about psychology. Poster presented at the Annual Conference of the American Psychological Association. Toronto, Canada.

Thompson, W. F., Schellenberg, E. G., & Husain, G. (2001). Arousal, mood, and the Mozart effect. Psychological Science, 12, 248–251.