Essay: Music and spatial task performance

In the October 14, 1993 issue of Nature magazine, UC Irvine researchers Frances
Rauscher, Gordon Shaw, and Katherine Ky published a short, one-page article entitled ‘Music
and spatial task performance,’ which detailed their research involving exposing college students
to 10 minutes of Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major (K. 448), a relaxation tape, or
silence, followed by a test on spatial reasoning, taken from the Stanford-Binet intelligence test.
Their research showed a statistically significant rise in scores from those students who had
listened to the Mozart sonata. The popular response was phenomenal.
Newspapers around the country christened their finding ‘the Mozart effect,’ and the
Mozart recording used in the study quickly sold out in the Boston area (Shaw 2000, 5). In
Georgia, Governor Zell Miller became so enthralled at the results of the study that, with
Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ playing in the background, he called for the legislature to allocate
$105,000 to give a free classical music tape or CD to every new mother in the state (AAAS
1998). Tennessee soon followed suit with a similar bill; Florida now requires day-care centers to
play classical music, and a New York community college now has a ‘Mozart effect study room’
(Gladwell 2000). Classical music radio stations latched on to the idea, one publishing a letter in
its newsletter from a listener who claims that she turned on the station and ‘immediately, my test
scores improved’ (Brin 1998, 11). A cottage industry sprung up, as Don Campbell (a long-time
advocate of music therapy) had the foresight to trademark ‘The Mozart Effect,’ adding fuel to
the fire by publishing a book by that title. The book actually only devotes two and a half pages
to the UC Irvine study, the rest of its pages filled with anecdotes, pseudoscience, and conjecture.
One chapter even claims that music can alleviate AIDS, allergies, and Diabetes (Campbell 1997,
226-252)! A recent cursory search on turned up half a dozen compact disc titles,
with names like ‘Better Thinking Through Mozart,’ ‘Mozart for Your Mind,’ a whole series of
‘Music for the Mozart Effect,’ and even ‘Ultrasound’Music for the Unborn Child’ (featuring
Mozart’s music)

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