Sunday, June 24, 2007

Does KV 448 make you smarter?

Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major (KV 448) is one of the most used compositions in music cognition research. Since the publication of the study Music and spatial task performance in Nature in 1993, numerous researchers have tried to replicate the so-called ‘Mozart effect’ using this composition. And often with little success. The idea is of course compelling: to become smarter by simply listening to Mozart’s music. It could be a helpful fact in the much needed support for a more prominent place of music in the curricula. However, the effect has been shown to appear not only with the music of Mozart, but also that of Beethoven, Sibelius, and even a ‘Blur effect’ was shown, based on a study in which 8,000 teenagers participated (see reference below).

Currently, the most likely interpretation of the effect is that music listening can have a positive effect on our cognitive abilities when the music is enjoyed by the listener. Apparently (and in a way unfortunately), it is not so much the structure of the music that causes the effect, but a change in the mood of the listener. While this indirectness might be disappointing for admirers of Mozart’s music, it is important to note that, at the same time, it leaves uncovered an important aspect of music appreciation. What makes certain music so effective in changing or intensifying our mood? It seems that while we are all experienced and active users of music as a kind of mood regulator (widely ranging from energizer to consoler of grief), music research has only just begun to explore the how and why of the relation between music and emotion.

ResearchBlogging.orgSCHELLENBERG, E., & HALLAM, S.(2005). Music Listening and Cognitive Abilities in 10- and 11-Year-Olds: The Blur Effect Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1060 (1), 202-209 DOI: 10.1196/annals.1360.013


  1. Though I have read multiple studies which show that listening to Mozart's music specifically enhances spatial temporal reasoning.

  2. Several studies show indeed that cognitive abilities (such as spatial temporal reasoning) are effected by KV 448. However, this turns out not to be directly due to the music itself; The effect is apparently caused by an improvement in mood as a result of listening to ones favorite music (see research by, e.g., Glenn Schellenberg). A seemingly subtle, but important difference.

  3. Het is dus niet "Muziek maakt slim", zoals sommigen stellig blijven verkondigen. Daarnaast is het natuurlijk een zwaktebod om het belang van muziek aan te tonen door te laten zien dat muziek een andere menselijke kwaliteit positief beïnvloedt. En wel een kwaliteit die we kennelijk belangrijker vinden. In dit geval: intelligentie. Het bevestigt in wezen het idee van muziek als luxe of tweederangs activiteit." Uit: Iedereen is muzikaal (2009, p. 23).