In 1993, Gordon Shaw and Frances Rauscher, scientists from Irvine, California discovered that listening to Mozart can increase intelligence. Within weeks, record shops in the US rode the bandwagon with banners such as “Make Your Child Brighter!” and “Get Brainier Listening to This Music!” One state even allocated substantial funding to enable pre-schoolers to receive a listening diet of this classical ‘wonder music’.
Soon enough, this commercial frenzy triggered skepticism among critics. They had to know how good if this research could really stand up under scientific scrutiny.
Ten years later, after a number of studies, scientists were able to conclude thatthere is a so-called Mozart Effect – actually and impressive raising of spatial IQ (the ability to solve jigsaw-like tasks for 15 minutes after listening to Mozart) – but no proven case for a longer-lasting benefit.
To investigate the issues further, according to Paul Robertson, a professor in music and psychology, it is helpful to understand the background both of the original research and of the historic role music played in education and healing.
The systems of Western Music are based on the pre-scientific belief that music is a reflection of ‘universal laws’ predating even the Ancient Greek philosophers – Socrates, Plato, Pythagoras et al—who later created our basic cultural view.
The concept of the “harmony of the spheres,” which is now generally misunderstood as merely a poetic fancy, was used by all significant thinkers and scientists in their early scientific experiments and construction of musical instruments to comprehend the structure of the universe.
Though scientific apparatus and concepts have changed greatly since then, whole areas of musicality often seem to offer surprisingly similar insights.
Gordon Shaw, as a distinguished physicist, with the intention of setting an unshakeable foundation in modern science, made an algorithm of intelligence; a theoretical computation, in fact, of how neurons of the brain fire in order to ‘think’.
With this pattern Shaw was able to generate a whole raft of resulting patterns. He then generated color pattern printouts to make the raw information meaningful.
Shaw’s university colleague Frances Rauscher, a music cognition expert, pointed out that the human auditory system is best able to recognize both pattern and incongruity. So Shaw used the same computer brain algorithm to make tonal patterns instead.
What they heard coming out of the machine was something very close to 18th-century music. The next step was inevitable. If brain patterns resembledmusical ones, surely those same musical patterns might prime the brain to function better.
Auditory specialist Dr. Alfred Tomatis then discovered that the music of Mozart and Gregorian chants are the most powerful way to reeducate and recalibrate the auditory system and brain coordination. The structural nature of these kinds of music helps clarify time/space perception. The nature of the music echoes the way in which the brain becomes familiar with the development of ideas.
Tomatis believed that because Mozart’s music most perfectly reflects the ideal pre-language vocalizing it creates an ideal learning condition.
Eminent psychiatrist Dr. Oliver Sachs suggests in some of his work that Mozart’s music is neurologically perfect, while the great educationist Lozanov also based much of his ground-breaking ‘suggestopedic’ work on the belief that Mozart provides a uniquely productive learning environment which favors the Alpha brain rhythms known to be associated with enjoyable and open, assimilating states of mind.
Dr. Peter Fenwick, a neuro-psychiatrist completed some studies of the unborn child’s responses to music. Once again, it’s Mozart that has the most beneficial effect – helping sleep and Alpha-wave patterns. From account of a certain woman named Margot Cleg, her husband benefited from Mozart’s music. Some years ago, her husband, Philip fell into a coma following surgery. Three days later, with Philip still unresponsive and in intensive care, Margot, remembering Dr. Fenwick’s lecture, was able to persuade the doctors to allow her to play her unconscious husband his favorite Mozart recording - The Clarinet Quartet performed by Jack Brymer and a certain quartet –the Medici.
Shortly after the music started Philip’s brain monitor began to flicker and by the end of the final variation he was almost completely coherent. The following day he was out of the intensive care and recovering fast.
Perhaps the Mozart effect could be the “real thing.” As far as experts know, there are no dangerous side effects.