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David Baxter

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Boosting babies' IQ with the 'Mozart effect'
14 October 2006

Remember the Mozart Effect, when 'moms-and-dads-to-be' played tapes and CDs of Mozart to their 'babies-to-be' to boost their IQs?

That all started 13 years ago when Californian psychologists played Mozart to some students while others sat in silence.

The music improved the students' "spatio-temporal intelligence" for a few minutes but the silence did nothing for the others.

Even rats did better on Mozart, negotiating mazes better than those who hadn't. The scientists later macerated the rats and found that the music had altered their brain chemistry.

All this research stimulated the growth of an industry and a lot of pop-psychology. Mozart's D Major sonata for two pianos soared to the top of Amazon sales and the world's classical charts.

The governor of the American state of Georgia proposed spending US$105,000 on classical CDs for newborns before a record company provided them for nothing.

New Agers claimed the music could cure everything from Alzheimer's to herpes. You can still buy plenty of CDs with titles such as Healing Mozart for babies, toddlers and pets and Jumpstart Your Newborn's IQ.

Dozens of scientists subsequently re-tested the Mozart Effect. Some tests were positive, others negative.

Several tests showed that Bach's, Beethoven's and Schubert's music also improved IQs but not as well as Mozart's. But the Mozart Effect got a big setback in 1999 when psychologists exactly repeated the 1993 experiment and found nothing happened.

Sceptics then pointed out that the Mozart Effect lasted only a few minutes and that all these trials were made on children or students, not fetuses, so there was no proof that the music did anything for newborns.

These days, interest has shifted from merely listening to music to the effects of actually learning the stuff.

Psychologists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that if boys played in school bands their facility with words grew. The longer they played in the bands, the niftier they became with words but not with visual memory. Children not in bands showed no such improvement.

The latest Brain journal reports that a team of Canadian-based psychologists put brain-scanning sensors on the heads of children aged between four and six to measure the effects of learning music. Half of these children took Suzuki music lessons while the other half had none.

A year later the electronic sensors revealed that musical training made the brain cells work faster, that nearly all the Suzuki pupils? IQs went up, their memories worked better and their word-processing and maths skills improved. No such improvements happened to the Suzuki-less children.

Another team compared the effects of music and drama lessons. Seems the drama lessons did nothing for the children?s IQs but the music lessons did. For the first time, the electronic scanners showed that music lessons made the brain neurons spark faster and improved the wiring of the brain ?for general cognitive functioning related to memory and attention?.

The psychologists suggest that, if we want bright kids, we should give them music lessons.
 

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