Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Mozart Effect: A Possible Explanation

I have heard of the Mozart Effect previously - perhaps from hearing someone mention it in small talk or through a magazine article - and reading about it in this course solidified my theory on why this "effect" has become so prominent. I believe that listening to music, or any other pleasant background noise for that matter (ex: a TV show), that somewhat captures the attention of the subject while not being too distracting, can serve to stimulate the brain, allowing for better thought processes and longer attention spans. This premise is something very familiar to education, and is present in education running all the way back to preschool, where a teacher may use a puppet to help teach students the alphabet. It's not that this puppet is emitting some subconscious brain waves to the students to help them learn, just as Mozart is not doing the same, but by providing a positive, interesting stimulus muddled in with redundant learning, this stimulus creates a "spark" which can help education and development.

How these stimulus work, however, relies entirely on the subject. While most classical music serves as proper background noise to the general public due to its consistent exposure in our lives (especially in their prominence in areas where they are naturally drowned out, such as elevators and holding music on customer service calls), people still have varying opinions on how much they enjoy it. I think it would be safe to assume that most people who demonstrated a significant growth through The Mozart Effect did so because they either were a fan of Mozart or the type of student who works best with noise in the room, or both. If a student either disliked Mozart or was one of many students who can not study with too much noise present (yours truly for example), the "effect" would not work.

So how do simple observations such as "this student likes studying to Mozart" and "this student studies better with noise in the background" evolve into "listening to Mozart while studying will improve your child's test scores"? The same ways most assumptions form in pseudoscience - through one party's desperation for an easy answer and another party's desire for money. Pseudoscience is riddled with convenient answers for otherwise difficult problems - who would want to exercise and eat right to have more energy when they can just wear some "magic" bracelet? Who would want to spend countless time and money getting their children extra help in school when all they need to do is blow the dust off a Mozart CD they bought at a garage sale and press play? These misconceptions and assumptions are the root of pseudoscience's biggest cons, and it takes an inquisitive and difficult to persuade mind to evade losing money in these pitfalls.

In closing, I would love to see a more thorough lab study on The Mozart Effect where the key traits observed for the subjects is A. whether or not they enjoy Mozart and B. whether or not they work best with noise or in silence. I believe that any positive correlation found in past studies would revolve around these two traits, with very little overlap in success for those who either dislike Mozart or dislike studying to noise.

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