"Long before it's in the papers"
January 27, 2015


“Mozart effect” disputed

May 9, 2010
Courtesy of the University of Vienna
and World Science staff

Lis­ten­ing to Mo­zart is great—but it won’t make you smarter. So con­clude sci­en­tists who car­ried out a new study ques­tion­ing the “Mo­zart ef­fec­t,” in which your brain­pow­er is sup­posedly tem­po­rarily boosted by lis­ten­ing to the com­poser’s work.

In 1993, Uni­vers­ity of Cal­i­for­nia at Ir­vine psy­chol­o­gist Fran­ces Raus­cher and as­so­ci­ates re­ported in the jour­nal Na­ture find­ings of en­hanced spa­tial task per­for­mance among col­lege stu­dents af­ter ex­po­sure to Mo­zart’s mu­sic.

Mozart in a posthumous portrait by Krafft, 1819

The find­ings sparked a wave of ex­cite­ment that saw Geor­gia gov­er­nor Zell Mill­er is­su­ing a bill in 1998 to en­sure that eve­ry new moth­er would re­ceive a free clas­si­cal CD for her child. The same year, Flori­da’s gov­ern­ment passed a law re­quir­ing state-funded day-care cen­ters to play at least an hour of clas­si­cal mu­sic dai­ly.

Var­i­ous spinoff stud­ies have ex­tend­ed the in­i­tial find­ings, with newer stud­ies con­clud­ing that or­gan­isms as di­verse as ba­bies and an­i­mals may ben­e­fit from Mo­zart’s mu­sic.

Yet oth­er sci­en­tists have been skep­ti­cal of the “Mo­zart ef­fec­t,” and come out with their own, some­times con­tra­dic­to­ry re­sults.

In the new stu­dy, psy­chol­o­gists from the Uni­vers­ity of Vi­en­na—the city where Mo­zart lived and worked—con­ducted a broadly in­clu­sive anal­y­sis of past re­search on the “Mo­zart ef­fec­t.” The anal­y­sis, pub­lished in the jour­nal In­tel­li­gence, re­views about 40 pre­vi­ous pub­lished stud­ies and ac­a­dem­ic the­ses.

The ev­i­dence as a whole provides no sup­port for gains in spa­tial abil­ity due to lis­ten­ing to Mo­zart, the re­search­ers con­cluded. “I rec­om­mend lis­ten­ing to Mo­zart to eve­ryone, but it will not meet ex­pecta­t­ions of boost­ing cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties,” said Ja­kob Pietschnig, lead au­thor of the stu­dy.

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Listening to Mozart is great—but it won’t make you smarter. So conclude scientists who carried out a new study questioning the “Mozart effect,” in which your brainpower is supposedly temporarily boosted by listening to the composer’s work. In 1993, University of California at Irvine psychologist Frances H. Rauscher and associates reported in the journal Nature findings of enhanced spatial task performance among college students after exposure to Mozart’s music. The findings sparked a wave of excitement that saw Georgia governor Zell Miller issuing a bill in 1998 to ensure that every new mother would receive a free classical CD for her child. The same year, Florida’s government passed a law requiring state-funded day-care centers to play at least an hour of classical music daily. Various spinoff studies have extended the initial findings, with newer studies even concluding that organisms as diverse as babies and animals may benefit from Mozart’s music. Yet other scientists have been skeptical of the “Mozart effect,” and come out with their own, sometimes contradictory results. In the new study, psychologists from the University of Vienna—the city where Mozart lived and worked—conducted a broadly inclusive analysis of past research on the “Mozart effect.” The analysis, published in the journal Intelligence, reviews about 40 previous published studies and academic theses. The evidence as a whole shows no support for gains in spatial ability due to listening to Mozart, the researchers concluded. “I recommend listening to Mozart to everyone, but it will not meet expectations of boosting cognitive abilities,” said Jakob Pietschnig, lead author of the study.