No, Music Doesn't Make You Smarter
Samuel Mehr crashes the 'Mozart effect' myth in two new studies
By Arden Dier, Newser Staff
Posted Dec 13, 2013 9:23 AM CST
In this Dec. 11, 2012 photo, a young musician tunes his cello.   (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

(Newser) – Sorry to burst your bubble, parents, but all those piano lessons aren't helping to make your child the smartest kid on the block. Learning to play a musical instrument comes with a lot of good: It can bolster creativity, focus, discipline, and even self-esteem. But there's just no cognitive benefits to music training, a Harvard PhD student explains after conducting two studies on the subject. Even so, "more than 80% of American adults think that music improves children's grades or intelligence," Samuel Mehr says. "Even in the scientific community, there's a general belief that music is important for these extrinsic reasons." It's all bogus, he tells the Harvard Gazette.

Mehr says the faulty belief stems mainly from a since-debunked "Mozart effect" study that found improved performance on spatial tasks after listening to music. And so he set out to test the music lesson-related angle himself: Mehr taught two randomly selected groups of children and parents either music or visual art, then tested cognition, vocabulary, math, and two spatial tasks; in the second study, the children and their parents either studied music or nothing. "There were slight differences in performance between the groups, but none were large enough to be statistically significant ... even when we used the finest-grained statistical analyses available," he says. Still, "music says something about what it means to be human," Mehr adds. "It would be crazy not to teach this to our children."

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Showing 3 of 17 comments
PN8891
Mar 8, 2014 12:03 AM CST
Uh, guys, they just debunked the so-called "Mozart effect" that had to do with LISTENING to music. I wouldn't throw out the idea that piano lessons help in some specific cognitive ways just yet--playing music is PARTICIPATING, which is a completely different animal from passively (or even not-so-passively) listening. I've long thought that many activities strengthen the various parts of the brain they use, and that the strengthened parts of the brain can then be used for other things. Sort of like different exercises can strengthen certain muscle groups, which then can be applied to accomplish things. I saw a NatGeo article awhile back that showed a brain scan of a woman at 20, and the same woman at 40, and showed how differently her brain was proportioned. There were some parts that were much larger, and other parts that were much smaller, as she was not doing the same things at 40 that she'd been doing at 20, and was not using the same parts of her brain in the same ways.
Ezekiel 25:17
Dec 23, 2013 6:14 PM CST
My perspective is from a boss's view with 25 teenage workers we got each summer who all just about bring in a variety of electric and acoustical guitars. They all think they are the next Eddie Van Halen but all they can really do is play a very bad rendition of Smoke on the Water or some riff from Nirvana or Chilli peppers. Worse are the ones who are in a "band" and have "produced" a CD and "play" at some function like the Spinklemeyer bar mitzvah. Then comes the Facebook update with the release of the newest CD by "insert random user name".
Econ_101
Dec 14, 2013 10:18 AM CST
I never could keep a tune, but I have been told that I am alright now ! LOL