Does music make you cleverer? – Sarah Murrison

It’s coming up to exams and many of you will be thinking how can I get the grades with as little effort as possible? Some of you may even listen to music during revision sessions, hoping that the “Mozart effect” might help you remember more dates in history or the different literary periods in English.

Playing Eine Kleine Nachtmusik to make babies smarter was a popular craze during the 1990s, so being born in 1997, am I more intelligent and therefore more likely to do better in exams than people born in the 80s or in the new millennium? The simple answer is – no. I’m not. However, the American research carried out in 1993 which came up with the ‘Mozart Effect’ has sparked interest into music psychology and how musical experiences can affect the brain.

child music
Is this a highly intelligent toddler?

Although countless other studies have since provided evidence undermining the original study of 1993, nearly all experts now agree that music can enhance the ability to perform better in exams and IQ tests. This is through mental stimulation, as demonstrated by the 1993 study, which involved a group of university undergrads listening to Mozart then taking an IQ test and comparing the results of students who hadn’t listened to Mozart before the test. The results showed that the Mozart group performed marginally better in their test. However, as pointed out by Glenn Schellenberg, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, “ just about any kind of mental stimulation before taking an IQ test will generate better results. “Music changes how you feel, and how you feel changes your cognitive ability.” Therefore carrying out any task with stimulates the brain before taking an exam will likely increase your mental ability just as much as listening to Mozart or Beethoven.

However, despite evidence suggesting listening to music improves exam results in the same way any mental stimulation would, a new study from Boston Children’s Hospital has found a specific correlation between playing an instrument and improved executive function in both children and adults. Executive function (EF) is described as high-level cognitive processes that enable people to process quickly and to retain information, regulate their behaviours, make good choices, solve problems, plan and adjust to changing mental demands. The study at Boston Children’s Hospital used functional MRI brain imaging in their controlled study to reveal a possible biological link between musical training and improved executive functioning. Therefore as Nadine Gaab, PhD, from the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children’s said in a press release, “Since executive functioning is a strong predictor of academic achievement, even more than IQ, we think our findings have strong educational implications” adding, “our findings suggest that musical training may actually help to set up children for a better academic future.”

So is there an easy way around revision? Does music make you smarter? Although there’s clearly controversy over the topic, as Albert Einstein once said, “Life without playing music is inconceivable to me. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music … I get most joy in life out of music.” Even if it doesn’t improve your IQ score or help you get that A in maths, music is something that should enrich and inspire – all of us.

2 thoughts on “Does music make you cleverer? – Sarah Murrison

  • May 11, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    Very interesting article – for more info on this type of thing read ‘Musicophilia’ by Oliver Sacks.

  • May 11, 2016 at 6:39 pm

    My mother played me music in the womb and as a baby hoping it would make me more intelligent. Well, it was the 60s!

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