In this blog I will be looking to explore the effects of music on the brain and in particular the Mozart effect. This is a brief introduction and may spark some interest, in which case please comment below to find out more.
It will be a useful insight for those undergoing an academic music degree or in fact for anyone interested in the cognitive effects of music. The primary purpose of communicating as such, is to solidify my own personal learning and hopefully generate some interest around the topics I am currently studying.
Mozart’s music, invigorating and impassioned. Mozart is considered one of the most inspirational composers of our time. Born in 1756, Mozart Salzburg. Mozart was quite a character, entertaining the monarchy and associated court’s mostly with an air of pomposity that, if it were not for his outstanding beatific masterpieces, he would perhaps have been less favourably considered. Despite of, or perhaps because of his eccentricity, we are dazzled with what could be described as God ordained music, that streamed from creative thought to paper faultlessly. And so analysts both past and present pursue the answer to the question: does Mozart’s music have a positive effect on intelligence?
Could the neurological impact of Mozart’s music be attributed to the idea of golden sections divisions? Or maybe the mathematical constructs and theme, development and recapitulation? It is certainly possible.
So, what is it that in fact is the cause of the Mozart effect, if indeed there is such a thing at all? And if so what are the cognitive effects or abilities that are evident through exposure to Mozart’s music, or any music. In this paper I will explore the effects that listening to music has on spatial awareness and visuospatial reasoning, and also on arousal and mood. What my research has revealed is that listening to Mozart’s music does not increase intelligence so to speak, although there are definitely many neurological benefits including a reduction in epileptic seizures.
The Mozart effect
Rauscher, Shaw and Kye were keen to know whether there was any direct correlation between music, and in particular Mozart’s music, and the ability to perform certain tasks.
“Shaw hypothesised: If brain activity can sound like music, might it be possible to begin to understand the neural activity by working in reverse and observing how the brain responds to music? Might patterns in music somehow stimulate the brain by activating similar firing patterns of nerve clusters?” (Donna Lerch). The main issue regarding the research at the time was fundamentally down to the fact that results were based on inaccurate findings as opposed to scientifically sound results rendering conflicting and confusing data that was often contradictory.
Designing conditions for testing was reasonably straightforward. What tended to present issues, was the concern surrounding the impact that listening and the types of audio material had on spatial and visuospatial reasoning and whether these effects were purely down to Mozart’s music.
And so various tests were carried out to establish what effect listening to various different audio material had on a variety of tasks such as the paper folding and cutting activity. This was the formation of the “Mozart effect” where in fact, despite successful results from participants across the board. Those who listened to Mozart music were significantly higher than those who had either sat in 10 minutes silence or listened to alternative music.
The early experiments that were conducted were as follows:
Three tests were conducted by Rauscher with undergraduate students complying with scientific protocol (same mean and deviation). The 10 minute Mozart listeners of the sonata K448 were the experimental group, whereas the controlled group listened to either relaxation music or were sat in silence. The design setup was deemed as fallible as there were only 3 of a potential 9 variations conducted, however tests on Visuospatial tests corresponded as participants tended to perform well across the board yet distinctly greater in the Mozart test and thus the Mozart effect was born.
When the music of Mozart and that of the minimalist composer Philip Glass are compared under test conditions of participants, a test conducted by University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago concludes that due to the 20-30 second function cycle of our central nervous system, we respond up to 3 times higher in performance of activities such as paper folding and cutting, in tests. Mozart’s music themes are often replicative of the nervous system. It would be natural to believe Shaw’s hypothesis that: “If brain activity can sound like music, might it be possible to begin to understand the neural activity by working in reverse and observing how the brain responds to music? Might patterns in music somehow stimulate the brain by activating similar firing patterns of nerve clusters?”
Mozart followers were keen to provide infallible evidence, that would further glorify the positive neurological impact that his music had and thus the Trion model was created (Leng and Shaw). This was an endeavour to narrow the parameters and to define what exactly the Mozart effect was in so far as what it affected specifically as a means of retrograding failed replication of previous tests.
A trion itself is essentially an aggregate of hundreds of neurons. The trion model is yet to be formally validated in neurology, although it is said to be “relevant to examining creativity in those higher cognitive functions” (`Eric L Wright). One feature is that it highly structured in terms of time and spatial connections. The trion model helps us understand two methods of learning; these being instructional learning and selective rapid learning, which is dependent on the complexities or difficulty of the task. The cortex mapping process and spatial-temporal firing patterns is differing neurological activity that is occurring dependent on the different stimuli. Interestingly the patterns that evolve are subject to change in accordance with modifications and the stimuli that is presented to us, although the blueprint remains untouched, we just develop a perspicacity to it.
Researchers, Carroll, Gardner, Linn and Petersen were able to narrow the intelligence remit to visuospatial and spatial-temporal when combined for the perceptual reasoning index. Thus it is verifiable through the confusion and conflict of test results, that there is indeed a positive effect of listening to Mozart on specific tasks.
“One ought not to be concerned about the current lack of consensus, because this is a normal part of the scientific enterprise. Rather, we should be delighted that the subject has become important, because it has been largely ignored in the past. We can look forward to exciting developments in the search to fully understand the roles of music in cognitive processes and behaviour.
- M. Weinberger”.