Can classical music make you smarter?

Ransom Riggs

You may recall a hubbub some years ago about classical music and its beneficent effects on developing young brains. It was 1993, to be exact, when Nature published a little article titled "Musical and Spatial Task Performance," which described how students who listened to Mozart while performing a complex paper-folding task enjoyed an IQ boost of up to 10 points. Naturally, in a culture where giving your kids a competitive advantage is a top concern of parents (especially if it's as easy as pushing "play"), the study had a major impact: classical music sales jumped, and franchises like Baby Einstein were born. Not only that, but legislation was passed, too: in 1998 Georgia mandated that new mothers be given classical CDs, and not about to be left behind in the great Southern baby brain race, the same year Florida required day care centers to pipe symphonies through their speakers.

But has foisting the masterworks of long-dead Austrian composers on the ears of our Britney-loving kids really accomplished anything? According to a recent Scientific American article, many scientists don't think so. Citing a New York psychologist who tried to reproduce the now-famous Mozart experiment on his own, "The effect is only one and a half IQ points, and it's only confined to this paper-folding task." Furthermore, a team of German Ministry of Education researchers dug deep into the supposed phenomenon, and concluded that "there is no compelling evidence that children who listen to classical music are going to have any improvement in cognitive abilities," adding "It's a myth."

On the other hand, there are plenty of researchers -- like author of The Mozart Effect for Children Don Campbell -- who maintain that certain types of music have beneficial organizing effects on the brain, and help to relieve stress, modulate mood and, yes, think more clearly. So, the jury is officially still out, but now we've got to know -- does listening to music (classical or otherwise) help you think?