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Mozart Effect: As Bogus As the Plot of Amadeus

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That's Tom Hulce having the last laugh on parents who believed that listening to Mozart could enhance their youngsters' mental abilities. A team of researchers in Vienna have conducted an exhaustive study of the "Mozart Effect"—which spawned a great fad among overdetermined parents, sold countless "Baby Mozart" CDs, and allegedly led to cases of the neoclassical master's music being pumped into the womb—and it turns out you may have been better off sticking with Haydn:

The Austrian researchers analyzed 40 studies involving more than 3,000 subjects.

"Those who listened to music, Mozart or something else — Bach, Pearl Jam — had better results than the silent group. But we already knew people perform better if they have a stimulus," head researcher Jakob Pietschnig told Agence France-Presse.

But there was no proof that Mozart actually improves intelligence, he said.

"I recommend that everyone listen to Mozart, but it's not going to improve cognitive abilities as some people hope," Pietschnig said.

For your listening pleasure, though apparently not your cognitive abilities, here's the wonderful Quintet in E flat, K452, led by James Levine, who could afford to pick up the tempo a little bit:

 

The Mozart Effect remains a great tale of popular psychology, which winds in and out of the movement for Organization Children, the myth of the first three years (or five years) and a bunch of other developmental rigmarole—all of which ends in the inevitable recognition that your kids are going to turn out however they're going to turn out, and that there is a depressingly small amount you can do about it (and you will almost certainly fail to do even that).

Leopold Mozart, the Murray Wilson of his time.

Fighting against this truth we have the Hungarian shrink and true weirdo László Polgár, who proved that you can in fact turn your daughters into chess masters through sheer behaviorist will, and Marv Marinovich, who inspired us all by showing you can make your son into an NFL quarterback for five minutes if you're willing to destroy his life in the process. But the greater claim of the Mozart Effect was that it would improve the child in all areas of development, and behind that is the greatest myth of them all: the making of the "well rounded person." Skepdic.com surveys the history:

The Mozart effect is an example of how science and the media mix in our world. A suggestion in a few paragraphs in a scientific journal becomes a universal truth in a matter of months, eventually believed even by the scientists who initially recognized how their work had been distorted and exaggerated by the media. Others, smelling the money, jump on the bandwagon and play to the crowd, adding their own myths, questionable claims, and distortions to the mix. In this case, many uncritical supporters line up to defend the faith because at stake here is the future of our children. We then have books, tapes, CDs, institutes, government programs, etc. Soon the myth is believed by millions as a scientific fact. In this case, the process met with little critical resistance because we already know that music can affect feelings and moods, so why shouldn't it affect intelligence and health, even if only slightly and temporarily? It's just commonsense, right? Yes, and all the more reason to be skeptical.

To be fair, one of the co-creators of the Mozart Effect, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh psychology professor Frances Rauscher, has tried to tamp down the more inflated claims about the  phenomenon:

"The term 'Mozart Effect' is now used to describe any study with music and learning. The term is meaningless," said Rauscher, who keeps a plush magnet of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart on the file cabinet in her office — a gag gift from a graduate student.

Above all, Rauscher stresses that the experiments are effective only under three conditions: The instruction must occurs before age 6 or 7 and continue for at least two years, and it must be high-quality instruction.

For the record, my thesis that girl singers lead to economic boom times stands unrefuted. Take a break from Amadeus and its blatant anti-Italian bias with music guaranteed to make your kid richer:

NEXT: The Pill: The Male Version

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  1. I thought this thing was debunked years ago. Or maybe it is such a ridiculous idea that I just thought it had been debunked.

  2. I tried out the Mozart effect on my kid, but I used Public Enemy instead.

    My experiment proved that Public Enemy turns 3 year old kids into anarchists. He listens to Public Enemy, and he immediately decides to Fight the Power by throwing his crap all over the family room.

    1. +1

      Radio stations
      I question their blackness
      they call themselves black
      but we’ll see if they play this

      For the record, I plan on using Beethoven and Tool. If my wife decides to have kids. (big, big if)

  3. OTOH, that My Baby Can Read stuff seems totally plausible to me.

  4. For your listening pleasure, though apparently not your cognitive abilities, here’s the wonderful Quintet in E flat, K452, led by James Levine, who could afford to pick up the tempo a little bit

    That is so gay.

    1. Actually its barbaric, Cavanaugh. Don’t tell a man playing a largo movement to “pick up the pace”. Jesus. Next you’ll be heckling mimes, telling them to “speak up!”

    2. Alan, I hate you.
      Cavanaugh, it is so much harder to play slowly.

      1. It’s even harder to play loud slowly.

        1. One thumb up.

  5. “Take a break from Amadeus and its blatant anti-Italian bias with music guaranteed to make your kid richer:”

    It’s a mod mod mod mod world.

  6. I object to the description of Mozart as “neoclassical.” Arguably the first work that could be described as neoclassical is Prokofiev’s first symphony of 1917, long after that guy from Star Trek Insurrection killed Mozart.

    1. You may be right, although Rigoletto predates it by quite some time and is very much in the 18th century structure. The problem is that “neoclassical” is the term used for the art, architecture, literature, etc. of the late 18th century, while “classical” as applied to music is so stretched well beyond where it means anything.

      1. I’d put Mozart at the end of Classical.

      2. If we’re just talking about music, Mozart was of course the apotheosis of the Classical era, so neoclassicism would be basically to imitate the style of Mozart (or Haydn, etc.) during a later period. I don’t think there’s anything classical or neoclassical about Verdi’s Rigoletto, a firmly Romantic work.

        Of course Mozart did live during the neoclassical era in architecture, etc., but there was a definite “Classical” period in music which is distinct from the Greco-Roman classicism that the neoclassicism of Mozart’s day evoked. But it is confusing and I don’t like the term “classical music” for that reason.

        1. I have pretty shoes.

        2. I always knew that one day I’d find myself fully agreeing with Tony.

  7. When I was in law school I took my property final while listening to Black Flag on my ipod. Maybe I can work out a deal with SST records to start marketing cd’s touting the Rollins Effect.

    1. Is that when you grow a hole in your chin?

  8. Yeah, I’m so damned well-rounded I know something about a lot of stuff and excel at nothing. Yay.

    1. Yeah, specialization is for insects.

  9. Yo I could write like that MoeZart if I had the time but my bitches they keep me up all night yo.

  10. My six-year-old listens pretty much exclusively to the Beatles and funk rarities. She has a kickass sense of rhythm.

  11. Kari: I also brought Mozart to play while he sleeps to make him smarter because leading experts say Mozart makes babies smarter.
    Helen: Kari…
    Kari: …And the beauty part is the babies don’t even have to listen ’cause they’re asleep! You know, I wish my parents played Mozart when I slept because half the time I don’t even know what the heck anyone’s talking about!

  12. For the record, my thesis that girl singers lead to economic boom times stands unrefuted.

    Incorrect. Girl singers follow economic boom times. Ie, we turn to girl singers when times are good, etc.

    1. Does this explain the rise of the crappy female singer/songwriter of the 90’s? Just say no to Paula Cole, Natalie Merchant, and all of their boring ilk.

      1. Those aren’t girls, those are lesbeings.

      2. For girl bands, listen to The Organ and their tribute to H&R’s resident rapist or their song about a not-too-distant dystopian future.

        1. Maybe I’m just not in the mood at this moment, but for now I’ll stick with the Breeders if I want chick rock.

  13. I found out on a really long traffic-jammy drive to the veterinarian’s office that my cats find Cryptopsy and Nile engrossing and soothing, but they hate old-school death metal. I didn’t raise ’em trve. The next batch are getting Slowly We Rot in the womb.

  14. Fuck Mozart.
    But what about the Keith Jarrett effect? That fucking shit will turn your little swaddling ball of runny shit and sour milk into Stephen Hawking.

  15. Did anyone catch Taj Mahal’s cover of “Shine a Light” on Jimmy Fallon last night? Just stunning.

    1. The Stones’ ‘Shine a Light’? I would look that up.

      They just released a new single from Exile last month. I haven’t heard it yet.

      1. Yeah it’s a cover of the Stones song. There is already a video up somewhere on the web.

          1. Amazing. Taj Mahal and The Roots killed it.

    2. Is that fucking guy still on?

  16. As we’re on pseudoscience, this is just too (un)funny not to share:

    http://blogs.news.com.au/daily…..sus_bogus/

  17. I believe the last video was used by Dr. House to trigger seizures.

  18. Here’s an article about the historical wrongness of Amadeus. Though I have to say that I rather enjoyed the film, despite its liberties with the truth.

  19. the myth of the first three years (or five years) and a bunch of other developmental rigmarole — all of which ends in the inevitable recognition that your kids are going to turn out however they’re going to turn out, and that there is a depressingly small amount you can do about it (and you will almost certainly fail to do even that).

    1. Damn server squirrels.

  20. Glad I’m not alone in hating Amadeus. I dunno, I guess it’s ok but doesn’t have much to do with Mozart. Sort of like Bird. That sucked. Any good biopics of musicians? (not documentaries) don’t think so.

    1. Ray

    2. Walk the Line.

  21. I can appreciate Amadeus as a fictional story based on real people. What’s the big deal about historical accuracy in movies, anyway? Plus, I like to think Salieri’s resentment of Mozart works as a good analogy for that feminist “beauty myth” stuff (not that I oppose feminism in all its forms).

    By the way, Mr. Cavanaugh misspells Murry Wilson’s name in the alt-text at the time I’m writing this.

    1. Feminists who cling to the beauty myth idea are still teenage girls internally who can’t get over the fact that there are more beautiful people than them and that that fact is not the end of the world.

  22. Also these parents are either freaky helicopter parents or lazy ones who think they can get something for nothing.

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  24. It’s too early

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