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The Mozart Effect: A Sound Theory?

Dr. Gordon Shaw developed the Mozart Effect, a theory that listening to classical music will make you smarter, in the early 1990s.

According to the Associated Press, Shaw became interested in brain theory in 1973 when he began researching the brain's capacity for spatial reasoning. People use spatial reasoning in such activities as solving mathematical problems, playing chess, engineering and science.

Shaw and graduate student Xiaodan Leng developed a model of the brain and used musical notes to represent brain activity. They were astonished to find that the overall sound resembled that of classical music. This is when Shaw decided to test the results of classical music on the brain.

Shaw conducted his first studies on three-year-olds and later studied the effects of classical music on college students. In 1993, he caught the media's attention when he reported that a group of college students increased their IQs as much as nine points as a result of listening to Mozart's "Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major."

Shaw's groundbreaking results spawned a number of similar studies. One of which, conducted in Wisconsin at Oshkosh, showed that preschoolers given piano lessons once a week scored 34 percent higher on spatial reasoning tests than those who didn't receive piano lessons.

Other studies, like one conducted by Harvard medical student Christopher Chabris, cast doubt on the Mozart Effect. After researching 16 studies involving 714 people, Chabris found that there was no statistically significant rise in IQ and no improvement in spatial thinking or abstract reasoning among the participants.

Researchers are still conducting studies on the effect of music on the brain and even on people with certain illnesses like epilepsy.

With new technology, scientists can better study neural circuitry of the brain-the way that trillions of connections are formed between billions of neurons during early infancy and childhood.

So if you want to increase brain capacity and be a mastermind, will listening to your favorite Mozart CD really help? It might be too early to tell. One thing is for certain, no one has ever lost intelligence from overexposure to Mozart, and children given the opportunity to study music will become smarter-at least in music.

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Burack, Jodi, American Music Teacher: Uniting Mind and Music. (Aug/Sep2005)

Caufield, Rick, Early Childhood Education Journal: Mozart Effect:Sound Beginnings?. (1999)

Demorest, Steven M, Morrison, Steven J, Music Educators Journal: Does Music Make You Smarter?. (2000)

Nursing: Swan Song for the Mozart Effect?. (2000)

The Mozart Effect Resource Center: Frequently Asked Questions., (2004)