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
No, Music Doesn't Make You Smarter
In this Dec. 11, 2012 photo, a young musician tunes his cello.   (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

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." (Read more music stories.)

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