Have you heard of the ‘Mozart effect’? Does music make children smarter? Do you know where all these claims about music and intelligence come from? Have you stopped to think if it has any real scientific basis?
There are many conditions and activities that are likely to help increase intelligence in children. Music is one of them, but not the only one. Many studies have attempted to establish a link between learning a musical instrument and intelligence. Does this mean that those who do not learn to play an instrument ‘will remain stupid’?
Does music make children smarter?
The Baby Mozart project, the “Little Einsteins” cartoon series and dozens of early incentive programs have led us to believe that music makes children smarter. Classical music has been found particularly beneficial, pointing to Mozart’s works as a good reference to follow.
And then we saw and still see parents and teachers, even pregnant mothers, play classical music to their babies and take their children to music lessons as early as possible, as if they had discovered the secret ingredient of intelligence. The big question then is: did this really work? Does music make kids smarter in reality?
Well no, or at least not enough to show a big advantage. The idea that playing classical music would make kids smarter is still controversial in light of studies showing conflicting results.
The 1993 study that found that music makes children smarter could not be replicated, and an extension of the experiment was not allowed. That is, what they gave us as a scientific study was not really scientific. However, the idea was a spectacular marketing tool, there is no doubt about it.
Music has many benefits for a child’s brain
We’re not saying that music doesn’t help at all. In fact, music has many benefits for children’s brains as well as adult brains. Many studies have focused on investigating the effect music has on the brain.
It seems that music prepares our minds for certain kinds of thinking. For example, several studies have shown that after listening to classical music, adults can perform certain spatial tasks more quickly.
But why is this happening? Apparently the ‘classical music pathways’ in our brains are similar to the pathways we use for spatial reasoning. So when we listen to classical music, the spatial reasoning pathways will already be ‘on’ and ready to be used.
Listening to classical music beforehand makes it easier to perform spatial tasks. But the effect lasts only a short time. Our improved spatial skills fade about an hour after we stop listening to the music.
What makes children really intelligent is…
We can conclude that music benefits children and adults in many ways, but being ‘smart’ or improving in school is probably not one of the biggest benefits. Yes, music helps, but not as much as it seems or at least not as they’ve led us to believe.
Several studies show that children who take music lessons or receive music education in school also perform better in intellectual activities. But it is likely that families and schools that invest in their children’s music education and other arts differ in many ways from families or schools that do not. That is probably the true cause of these observed differences.
Several researchers have attempted to replicate previous research, where they found small benefits in intelligence, intellectual abilities, and academic achievement. However, the results of their random studies of music education in children did not show that music makes children smarter. Some of these studies actually showed losses.
What really matters is playing and talking with our children. Hug them, kiss them, sing to them. Dance with them, read with them, explore with them. Stimulate their creativity and feed their curiosity.
Does music make children smarter? What does it matter! If you really want your kids to be smarter, spend lots of quality time with them. This is undoubtedly a much more decisive factor than music. Do not be fooled.