Monday, May 10, 2010

"Mozart Effect-Shmozart Effect"

Believe it (or in it) or not. That's the name of a scientific paper published in a journal on the validity of the famed 'Mozart Effect'. I love the name, more so that a scientist dared to use it in the actual title of his paper.
"The transient enhancement of performance on spatial tasks in standardized tests after exposure to the first movement “allegro con spirito” of the Mozart sonata for two pianos in D major (KV 448) is referred to as the Mozart effect since its first observation by Rauscher, Shaw, and Ky (1993). These findings turned out to be amazingly hard to replicate, thus leading to an abundance of conflicting results. Sixteen years after initial publication we conduct the so far largest, most comprehensive, and up-to-date meta-analysis (nearly 40 studies, over 3000 subjects), including a diversity of unpublished research papers to finally clarify the scientific record about whether or not a specific Mozart effect exists...."
The clincher:
" On the whole, there is little evidence left for a specific, performance-enhancing Mozart effect."
So much for the tinkling sounds of Mozart's lullaby that played whenever I turned the key of  S's musical mobile, and then when the keys of M's play gym were pressed, playing the opening strains of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Or the ubiquitous Baby Einstein videos playing variants of Mozart in millions of homes where anxious parents rushed to enhance their babies' spatial skill abilities.
Regarding the role of music in general to enhance learning, this recent study indicates it makes very little difference:
"Verbal learning during the exposure to different background music varying in tempo and consonance did not influence learning of verbal material. There was neither an enhancing nor a detrimental effect on verbal learning performance. The EEG data suggest that the different acoustic background conditions evoke different cortical activations. The reason for these different cortical activations is unclear. The most plausible reason is that when background music draws more attention verbal learning performance is kept constant by the recruitment of compensatory mechanisms."
This might account for the effects of my listening to old Bollywood tunes on the late night radio show. For a while, it contributed to lack of attention to my studies and more to the music, as I tried to figure out the lyrics. I took to noting them down in a blue diary. Once I was done, it was relegated to the background the next time I heard it. I don't know if it helped me in my exam preparations, but I was one of the "Most Wanted" members of the class Antakshari team.

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