Music and Cognition: The Mozart Effect Revisited

Share
49
Email
Comments

In 1993, researchers at UC Irvine published a study in the journal Nature showing that 36 undergrads temporarily improved their spatial-reasoning IQ scores after listening to part of Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major. The story got blown up and oversimplified in the mainstream media, which trumpeted the so-called Mozart effect, the notion that listening to classical music makes you smarter.

The idea was picked up by politicians and popularized by people like Don Campbell, who wrote the best-selling books The Mozart Effect and The Mozart Effect for Children.He actually trademarked “The Mozart Effect” name, and built a small empire peddling CDs and books that variously claim to heal the body and stimulate your baby’s brain. The Irvine researchers, Dr. Francis Rauscher and the late Dr. Gordon Shaw, distanced themselves from all the hype, which they said distorted their findings.

“Generalizing these results to children is one of the first things that went wrong,” Rauscher told NPR in 2010. “Somehow or another the myth started exploding that children that listen to classical music from a young age will do better on the SAT, they’ll score better on intelligence tests in general, and so forth.”

Yet for all the debate about the effect of music listening and training on general cognitive ability, a growing body of research strongly suggests that studying music can enhance a child’s learning skills, including reading. A significant new Canadian study shows that preschoolers who participated in a computerized musical training program improved their verbal intelligence scores after only 20 days.

“Music and language have common biological mechanisms. Musical training strengthens them,” says Dr. Nina Kraus, a noted neurobiologist who runs Northwestern University’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, via e-mail.

“Hear” Training

Kraus’ research has shown that musicians, who memorize sounds and patterns, can process music and language better than people who don’t have musical training. Over time, she says, musical experience fundamentally changes how the nervous system responds to sound. Among other things, musicians are better at hearing speech in noise, an important skill for kids trying to learn in a bustling classroom.

“Music and language have common biological mechanisms. Musical training strengthens them.” – Dr. Nina Kraus

Kraus argues that music should be taught in schools in part because it could engage attention and memory skills, strengthening kids’ “phonological processing” and enhancing their reading skills. As she puts it, reading and music both involve mapping sounds to meaning.

“In addition to contributing to great amusement and well-being, practicing music does, in fact, appear to make you smarter — at least smarter when it comes to how you hear,” Kraus and her Northwestern colleague, Dana Strait, wrote in a recent study, published in Music Perception, titled “Playing Music for a Smarter Ear: Cognitive, Perceptual and Neurobiological Evidence.”

Kraus, whose lab is in the midst of a four-year study on music education and adolescent brain development, was impressed by a study published in October by researchers at York University in Toronto. It showed a rise in verbal IQ scores among young kids who took an interactive music-training program.

Exploring the Link Between Music and Language

The study’s title echoes its conclusion: “Short-Term Music Training Enhances Verbal Intelligence and Executive Function.”

Directed by Dr. Sylvain Moreno, now the lead scientist at the Center for Brain Fitness at the University of Toronto’s Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest, the study focused on 48 kids between the ages of 4 and 6. Half of them participated in an interactive, computerized music-training program; the other half took part in a similar program about visual art. Both software programs were designed by Moreno, using the same cartoon characters, graphics, and tone.

The music kids learned about rhythm, pitch, melody, singing, and basic theory. The art kids learned about line, color, shape, dimension, and perspective. None of the kids had studied music or art before, and none of their parents were professional musicians or artists. The kids participated in the training for two hours a day over a 20-day period.

“The more the music training induced changes in the brain, the more the children improved their intelligence scores.” – Dr. Sylvain Moreno

Before and after completing the programs, each child took the oral Vocabulary and Block Design subtests of the standardized Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of the Intelligence test (the vocabulary to measure verbal ability, the block design to gauge spatial ability). The children were also given a “go/no-go” task — pushing a button when a white shape flashed on a computer screen, or refraining from pushing it when a purple one appeared — while electrodes were attached to their heads to record their brain activity.

There was no appreciable difference in IQ scores between the music kids and art kids before the training. But afterward, more than 90 percent of the music kids improved their verbal scores — some by 14 points — while the art kids showed no significant improvement in verbal ability, and only slight improvement in their spatial skills.

Similarly, the music kids showed greater accuracy on the “go/no-go” task after the training. And their brain waves had notably larger peak amplitudes, showing an increase in brain activity. The task, which engages the fronto-parietal networks of the brain that deal with attention, measures what the brain people call executive function.

Skills That Transfer

“Through this musical training, we were able to stimulate a special brain area, and through this stimulation, we were able to raise the verbal intelligence of these kids,” says the French-born Moreno, on the horn from his Toronto lab. “It’s astonishing that we can do that after 20 days!”

He calls the study, published in Psychological Science, a scientific breakthrough. It’s the first to show a causal relationship between musical training and improved intelligence scores and attention, he says, and it demonstrates that the transfer of one cognitive skill to another can occur in early childhood.

“We had brain plasticity in children after 20 days,” he says. “The brain behavior changed after the musical training. And what we found that was crucial was that the change in intelligence was correlated with the change in the brain: The more the music training induced changes in the brain, the more the children improved their intelligence scores.”

Moreno thinks these findings have important implications for people involved in education and the study of brain plasticity.

The results tell him that “music training is incredibly powerful, and there is a special link between music and these core skills of the brain. … This curriculum, through the power of music, is like a switch button for the cognitive development of children. You turn the switch on to learn.”

Nina Kraus, whose research Moreno and his colleagues cite in their report, gives high marks to the Canadians’ work. “It’s a very important study,” she says. “The effects in verbal IQ scores is a significant discovery.”

The causal effect of Lady Gaga on teen literacy awaits further study.

Jesse Hamlin has written for The San Francisco Chronicle and other publications over the past 30 years on a wide range of music and art, covering jazz musicians and symphonic conductors, sculptors, poets, and architects. He has also written for The New York Times, Art & Auction and Columbia magazines, as well as liner notes for CDs by Stan Getz and Cal Tjader.
Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

New Year, New Classes!

We are excited to announce that we will be offering our first session of music outreach programs starting this month, January 2012!
What a way to kick off the New Year.  We will be running Music Together classes (research-based music and movement program) in the childcare program at Burnaby South Secondary Childcare Center and in the preschool class at Morley Elementary School.  Both centers are operated by Burnaby Family Life which is a local organization that has been providing family support services in the area since 1971.  Burnaby Family Life provides a wide range of services including counselling, parenting, pregnancy, English language skills, childhood literacy, childcare and life skills classes .  We are very excited to be involved in their childcare programs!  We have already met many wonderful children, teachers, volunteers, support staff, and parents in the recent trial classes and  events and look forward to continuing to connect with all these amazing individuals through music each week.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

T’is The Season to Sing and Dance

Wow! We had an amazing time leading singing and dancing activities for the staff and volunteers at Burnaby Family Life. It was so uplifting to make music with this group as everyone was so quick to embrace the experience. Each person brought their own incredible energy to the group creating a warm and inviting atmosphere. While there were both familiar and unfamiliar faces everyone was able to comfortably connect through this shared experience. Music is one of few activities that offers an accessible means for connecting with others. No matter what language you speak, what age you are, what your skills are, none of these separate us in making music with one another. We can each come from our unique lives and share this common experience with one another.
We hope that you can find a simple way to use music to connect with others during the upcoming holiday season. Peace and joy to all of you from all of us at Music Share!

20111221-124005.jpg

20111221-124038.jpg

20111221-124049.jpg

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Fall Fundraiser Big Success!

What an amazing afternoon!  Our first fundraiser was held this past Sunday, October 30th, 2011 at the Scandinavian Community Centre in Burnaby, BC.   A good time was had by all and enough  funds were raised to begin music outreach programs in January!  We will be teaming up with Burnaby Family Life to provide music programming to young children in a number of their early childhood daycare and preschool centers.   The fundraising will also help us initiate our first music therapy project which is currently in development.

The afternoon featured performances by Catrina Centanni and Jay Juatco and Jason and the Diatonics:

Jason and The Diatonics

Jason and The Diatonics

Catrina Centanni & Jay Juatco

Catrina Centanni & Jay Juatco

We had a great audience out enjoying the afternoon entertainment!  Thank you to all those who came out to support the event.

Kicking back and enjoying the show.

Kicking back and listening to the tunes.

Enjoying the moment.

Enjoying the moment.

We also had many generous donations from local businesses and individuals.  We’d like to extend a big thank you to:  Scotiabank, Gowlings Law Firm, Vancity, Easy Park, Frank’s Finishing, BBA Accounting, Pizazz Hair Design,  and Joe Ruscitti.

Silent auction items

Silent auction items

Bidding in progress!

Bidding in progress!

We had many volunteers helping us out through the day! We’d like to thank them for helping with the set-up, clean up, baking, ticket sales, securing donations, photography, musical performances, and more.

Thank you to all those who made these lovely treats!

 

Yum ... enjoying the treats!

Yum!

Here are a few more photos from the event:
Photo Credits:  Michelle Tung

Lucky winner!

Lucky winner!

Music Share

Jason and The Diatonics

Jason and The Diatonics

Venue location

Venue location

Enjoying the treats.

Enjoying the treats.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Music Share Fundraiser – Live Concert October 30th

Join us for our first MUSIC SHARE FUNDRAISER featuring live musical performances by
CATRINA CENTANNI and JASON AND THE DIATONICS
(piano/keyboards – Erik Olson, background vocals – Stephanie Olson).

Sunday, October 30th at 1:00 pm
Scandinavian Community Centre
6540 Thomas Street, Burnaby
Ticket price:  $25.00 for adults/teens (tickets are available at Staccato Studios or by calling 778-998-1075)
Children 12 yrs and under are free with an adult ticket holder.
The event will also feature a silent auction and refreshments!

All proceeds raised will fund instruments, books, CDs, and other supplies needed to start running music outreach programs in January. 

Check out the performers at:

www.jasonandthediatonics.com
www.catrinacentanni.wordpress.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Hats Off Day!

Come dance and sing with us as we make our way through the Burnaby Heights! Parade starts at 9:30 and the street festival runs til 3:00 pm.  There is a vintage car show, live bands, live dancing, tons of food, and tons of fun!  The festival area runs along Hastings in North Burnaby from Beta Avenue to Boundary.  See you there!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Music and the Mind ….. Amazing!

There have been many studies and books appearing on the topic of music and the mind and it is truly fascinating!  Of course we know how much enjoyment can come from listening to music and making music.  However, making music can also be a great workout for the brain!  Something as simple and enjoyable as singing creates a great amount of activity in the brain.  As we sing not only are we processing language, but we are also processing patterns of melody and rhythm.  While language is primarily based in the left hemisphere of the brain, singing involves both hemispheres.  This information has become very important as music is now being used for treating disorders and injuries that affect the brain.

Music therapy can be used with a variety of patients including those with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and those who have suffered a stroke.  In the case of stroke patients, who commonly suffer from aphasia (the loss of speech), singing or melodic intonation therapy can be used to help these patients regain speech.  Amazingly while many stroke patients may not be able to speak, they are commonly able to sing.  While singing does use language, the brain uses a different route to access language when we are singing as opposed to when we are speaking.  Through long-term music therapy, stroke patients can regain their ability to speak.

For further explanation on this topic please check out this great article:

“Singing ‘rewires’ damaged brain”on the BBC NEWS website http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8526699.stm

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized