Creating Creativity With Music
Understanding Music's Emotional Power
Recent Publications of Special Interest
Our Telnet address has been changed to
[ login: mbi -no password needed ]
with our E-mail address now
Creativity, while highly desirable, is popularly regarded
as an elusive, subjective characteristic. Within music, it
is reflected largely in compositions. However, creativity can
be measured objectively and its involvement of music is not limited
to composing. Accumulating findings indicate that musical training
enhances intellectual creativity in general.
Mozart is sitting alone in the garden of a country villa on his way from Vienna to Prague. It is September, 1787. Suddenly, the muse "strikes" and immediately he has conceived of the peasant's dance that opens the wedding scene in Act I of, arguably one of the greatest operas ever composed, Don Giovanni. Or so the story goes. Later that day Mozart enthralls the count and countess of the villa, recounting how sitting in the garden had elicited a long-forgotten childhood memory of an afternoon in Italy, and how the two experiences coalesced in his mind to produce the exact music that he needed for the scene. Or so the story goes.
How typical of the creative act. How replete with the romantic vision of artistic insight emanating from a genius for whom creativity was both sublime and effortless. Or so the story goes -- for this particular episode is indeed a story, part of an extensive imaginary account of Mozart. It is the creation of Eduard Mörike whose novella, Mozart auf der Reise nach Prag [Mozart on a trip to Prague], published in 1855. Highly popular in its time, it also has been influential in shaping conceptions of Mozart even to our time.(1)
Distinct from the issue of ultimate truths about Mozart's creativity (for which scholars are not in complete agreement), we have in Mörike's novella a case of his own creativity. What, if anything, links these two acts of creativity? It is easy to note differences -- Mozart composed music, Mörike composed literature. Are there different creativities for every field of endeavor? Indeed, can creativity even be subject to scientific inquiry? The nature of creativity is a topic of intense current interest and debate.(2) But it is being studied.
Several approaches to directly measuring creativity have been developed over the years, and these have been applied successfully in many settings. For example, Guilford developed an "Unusual Uses" test in which a person is asked to devise as many uses for a common object as possible; e.g., what are unusual uses for a brick? Also, his "Unusual Situations" test, which asks, for example, what would happen if no one had to sleep anymore?(3) The Torrance Test of Creative Abilities is also widely used; e.g., a child might be asked to sketch as many objects as possible given a set of blank circles.(4)
This is not to say that all workers agree on which measures are best. Amabile has argued for and applied assessments of creativity based on the collective judgments of e.g., a work of art, by individuals who are widely regarded as experts within the field in question.(5) But even with overall judgments, definite factors are evaluated. These include novel use of materials, novel ideas and spontaneity as well as other factors that might be less closely related to the "core" concept of creativity. This "core" I take to be a new way of thinking or doing which is not merely different or bizarre but is coherent and perhaps illuminating.
Even in the absence of universal agreement about how best to measure the highly desirable characteristic of creativity, some workers have sought means to enhance creative thinking. Among these are attempts to determine whether music education affects measures of general creativity. Note that the issue is not whether such education enhances creativity within music itself, which would be expected, but rather concerns the broader domain of expanding ones' intellectual boundaries.
There seems to be a widespread belief that the answer is obviously positive. For example, according to Webster, "For many, this very use for our subject is at the center of our philosophical justification for music in the schools".(6) There are many well-reasoned arguments that music truly enhances creativity.(7) And there are many accounts of creativity in the musical activities of young children, including composition and invention of their own notation systems.(8) Finally, there are compelling reports of the beneficial integration of music into the curriculum.(9)
However, objective controlled studies are required to evaluate such claims. Naturally, music research has to meet the same standards as exist for all other issues that are subject to science, whether they relate to smoking and lung cancer or to exercise and health, both topics of great debate and uncertainty less than a generation ago. This dawning realization that exhortation and anecdotal reports are insufficient to settle the issue raises the question of whether adequate studies have been carried out. For so important a question, there are disappointingly few such published investigations. However, existing studies do point to a positive relationship between music education and enhanced creativity.
One of the earliest of these was performed by Simpson in 1969, as his doctoral dissertation. Unfortunately, it was never published and therefore the findings are not readily accessible or generally known.(10) Simpson gave 173 high school music and 45 non-music students tests devised by Guilford (mentioned above). He reported that music students scored more highly than did non-music students on several measures of creativity. The findings are correlative, that is they show a significant relationship between music and creativity. Whether or not music education caused creativity scores to be enhanced cannot be determined from this report.
An investigation published soon thereafter indirectly speaks to the issue of what sort of and how much music-related education is needed to enhance creativity. Apparently it must be more than twice weekly for three months. Thus, Vaughn and Myers (1971) gave 4th and 5th graders a special program using this schedule, which involved showing students the many parallels between various musical processes and major factors in general creative thinking, such as fluency, flexibility and originality. However the students learned no technical skills, that is they did not actually learn to play instruments. Rather, structured listening was employed. At the end of three months there were no differences compared to a control class which received no special treatment.(11) So three months of occasional listening is not enough.
In addition to the question of the necessary duration of music education, one would also like to know the youngest age at which music can increase creativity. An unpublished dissertation by Wolff (1979) deals with both issues. This author studied the effects of 30 minutes of daily music instruction for an entire year, on first graders. All students were tested at the beginning and end of the year on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking and also with the Purdue Perceptual-Motor Survey. A control class received no music education. Wolff found that the music students exhibited significant increases in creativity. As it happens, they also developed a significant increase in perceptual-motor skills.(12) This study indicates that the creativity of children as young as first graders can be enhanced by music education, apparently if it is a sustained part of the curriculum rather than as a periodic addition to the school day for a few months.
Are first-graders the youngest children in which music can increase creative thinking? Probably not. Magda Kalmar studied the effects of music instruction on pre-school children of three and four years of age. Working in Budapest, Hungary, Kalmar obtained test scores both for the Torrance Creativity Test and the Binet Intelligence Test and also for the Oseretzky Scales of motor development. The experimental group received singing music lessons and musical group play twice weekly; the relatively modest amount of music education was offset by the fact that this treatment was continued for three years. The author found that the music students scored higher than a non-treatment control class in creativity. Also, they had higher levels of abstraction and also showed greater creativity in improvised puppet-play. An additional benefit was better motor development.(13) There we no differences in IQ, suggesting that music education has quite specific effects on creativity.(14) The exact age at which music was effective cannot be determined because no yearly assessments were reported during the three year period of this study. Benefits might have developed within one year, that is during the third and fourth year of life. Based on Wolff findings (above) it is unlikely that effects would require three years.
The last two controlled studies, both by the same group at Kent State University, studied high school and university students. In the first of these studies, Hamann, Bourassa and Aderman obtained scores on the Guilford Unusual Consequences Test for university students who either were or were not music majors.(15) They found significantly higher creativity scores in music majors. Of course, this is a purely correlative finding; no causal relationship can be inferred from these data. However, the authors also determined the relationship between creativity and the total amount of music education., which was as high as more than 10 years. They discovered that students with more than 10 years of music education exhibited significantly greater creativity than those with less than 10 years of experience. Thus, these authors "tapped into" the "music treatment" that the students had effectively performed on themselves, which is more feasible than undertaking an extremely long multi-year experiment. So, these findings are quite consistent with the idea that creativity increases as a function of the amount of music education.
In the other study, Hamann et al tested high school students, whose experiences included theatrical and visual arts.(16) Once again, and perhaps not surprisingly, the authors found that music students exhibited greater creativity than non-music students. Theater students also scored significantly higher, but, unexpectedly, no effects were found for visual arts students in this particular study. Again, the issue of possible causality was approached by determining the relationship between length of music education and creativity scores, based on the number of academic units of music classes. A statistically significant relationship was observed; the greater the number of units, the greater the creativity scores.
In summary, the findings to date provide solid support for the claim that music increases creativity. Moreover, it appears that active music making is more effective than passive music experience. But it must be realized that there is not nearly enough research on this issue. Detailed and systematic studies of the types and amount of music education for groups of all ages need to be undertaken. In addition, a broader range of measures of creativity should be used to fully explore this critical dimension of the intellect. That creative potential can be increased is of great importance. That music appears to be an effective means of accomplishing this goal should be glad tidings for everyone. After all, what is the greatest source of potential benefit to our planet if not the potential of our imagination linked to rational and unselfish action?
-- N. M. Weinberger
(1) Watts, R. E. (1992), Eduard Mörike, Alexander Ulïbïshev, and the "Ghost Scene" in Don Giovanni, in Studies in the History of Music, 3, New York: Broude Brothers Limited, pp. 31-50.
(2) Boden, M.A. (1994) What is creativity? In: Dimensions of Creativity. M.A Boden (ed.) Cambridge MA:MIT Press, pp. 75-117.
(3) Guilford, J. P. (1967) The Nature of Human Intelligence, New York: McGraw-Hill.
(4) Torrance, E. P. (1966) The Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking: Norms-Technical Manual, Lexington, MA: Personal Press.
(5) Amabile, T. M. (1996) Creativity in Context, Boulder, Co.: Westview Press.
(6) Webster, P.R. (1990) Creativity as creative thinking. Music Educators Journal, 6:22-28.
(7) Cleall, C. (1981) Notes toward the clarification of creativity in music education. Psychol. of Music, 9:44-47; Crowe, B.J. (1987) Stimulating creativity in the mentally retarded through music experiences. Joint Conference of the National Coalition of Arts Therapy Associations, NewYork, 1985 Arts in Psychother. 14: 237-241; Burns, M.T. (1988) Music as a tool for enhancing creativity. J Creativ. Behav., 22:62-69; Hollander, L. (1988) Music: The creative process and the path of enlightenment. Music Therapy, 7:8-14.
(8) Doig, D. (1941) Creative music: I. Music composed for a given text. J. of Ed. Res., 35:263-275; Pond, D. (1981) A composer's study of young children's innate musicality. Council for Res. in Music Ed. Bull. 68:1-12; Kartomi, M.J. (1991) Musical improvisations by children at play. The World of Music: J. of the Internat. Instit. for Trad. Music, 33:53-65; Upitis, R. (1995) Fostering children's compositions:Activities for the classroom. General Music Today, Spring, 16-19.
(9) Schmidt, D.T. (1958) Living creatively with children and music. Education, 79:109-114; Upitis, R. (1992) Synthesizing music into activity -based classroom. Output, January, 14-19.
(10) Simpson, D. J. (1969) The effect of selected musical studies on growth in general creative potential, Doctoral Dissertation, University of Southern California, Diss. Abstr., 30:502A-503A, as cited in Cutietta, R., Hamann, D. L. and Walker, L. M. (1995), Spin-Offs, Elkhart, In: United Musical Instruments, pg. 27. I have been unable to obtain a copy of this dissertation; hence I do not know whether the music and non-music students were matched on other factors, such as grade point average, etc.
(11) Vaughan, M. and Myers, R.E. (1971) An examination of musical processes as related to creative thinking. J. Res. in Music Ed.,19:337-341.
(12) Wolff, K.L. (1979) The Effects of general music education on the academic achievement, perceptual-motor development, creative thinking, and school attendance of first-grade children, Doctoral Dissertation, University of Michigan, Diss. Abstr., 40:5359A.
(13) Kalmar, M. (1982) The effects of music education based on Kodaly's directives in nursery school children -- from a Psychologist's point of view, Psychol of Music, Special Issue, 63-68.
(14) One should be cautious in thinking about IQ scores vs. measures of creativity, etc. Intelligence test scores are comprised of the scores of several sub-tests that aim at tapping different aspects of intelligence. It might be more revealing to know the effects of music education on each of the sub-tests and the separate factors that each of these sub-tests measures.
(15) Hamann, D. Bourassa, R. and Aderman, M. (1990) Creativity and the arts, Dialogue in Instrumental Music Ed., 14:59-68.
(16) Hamann, D., Bourassa, R. and Aderman, M.
(1991) Arts experiences and creativity scores of high school students,
Contrib. to Music Ed., 14:36-47.
Music has the enormous power to cause emotions to well-up
within us. These compelling, often overwhelming, feelings, emerging
seemingly from nowhere, color our moods, affect our perceptions,
and can alter our behavior. The mystery of this power of music
is yielding to scientific investigation. Recent studies point
to the interaction of two factors through which music operates:
how much we like a piece, which might be expected, and the magnitude
of its arousal potential, which is not.
What is more indisputable about music than its power to evoke emotions? Is there anyone for whom music is completely emotional neutral? Researchers doubt that any normal brain is immune to music's ability to rapidly and seemingly inevitably tap the, still mysterious, deep well of our emotions. Why and how this is so constitute two central questions about human nature and it neurological underpinnings. The answers would also greatly illuminate the special role of music, both as an apparent human need and as a satisfaction of that need.
But there are some really big potholes on the road to solving these riddles. Some are technical, such as the need to obtain precise data from all relevant regions of the human brain during the elicitation of target emotional reactions to an extensive array of types of music, for an affordable cost. Human brain imaging is not quite there. But technical problems usually are solved over time. The bigger obstacles concern implicit assumptions about the relationship between music and emotion. For example, some workers appear to believe that a given piece of music will have the same emotional outcome in most, if not all, people. Were this known to be true, the task of understanding the emotional power of music would be greatly simplified. One might seek how the brain responds to particular sound sequences that evoke, e.g., happy feelings, compared to another composition that produces sadness.
However, music can produce various emotional responses in different individuals and even different responses in the same person at different times. (For a review of some relevant findings see "The Coloring of Life: Music and Mood", MRN, Spring 1996). Moreover, even the general effects of music on behavior are quite different in different people. For example, one way of characterizing personality is along the dimension of "extraversion-introversion". We all know extraverts, highly "outgoing" people, and we all know introverts, those of us who prefer a quieter existence. Interestingly, the effect to which background music affects learning and recall depends on this personality dimension. Furnham and Bradley, of University College, London first assessed this aspect of personality in college students. They also checked to make certain that the two types had the same IQ scores, to eliminate the effect of possible differences of intelligence on the results. Next, subjects read a 400 word passage of text either in silence or in the presence of a taped radio segment of pop music with the occasional voice of a disk jockey. Finally, the subjects were asked questions about the reading material after a six minute period of silence. The introverts remembered significantly less than did the extraverts.(1) In other words, the extent to which music is a distracter during learning is not the same for all people but depends upon whether they are extraverts or introverts. There are at least two implications of this finding. First, from a practical standpoint, introverts should be cautious about potential distractions from background music if they want to have the best recall of what they have read. Second, investigations of the effects of music on behavior need to take into account individual differences; the hope for a fixed link between certain sounds and emotional reactions will probably not be realized.
While the picture would seem to be complicated by personality factors, there is still much that has been done to understand the processes that determine music's effects on emotion, Many years ago D.E. Berlyne hypothesized that when we listen to music, we unconsciously take account of things such as its complexity, familiarity and novelty. He suggested that these variables affect our preferences for music by altering basic brain processes that control our general level of excitability or arousal. In this sense, any piece of music has an "arousal potential" for an individual. Berlyne's studies revealed that people prefer aesthetic experiences in general that produce an intermediate level of arousal, neither too exciting nor too unexciting.(2) Thus, he found a link between the extent to which people like a piece of music and how much that music excites us. One of the fascinating aspects of Berlyne's findings is that they are not what we would expect from a common sense point of view. One might assume that highly relaxing music might be thought of as highly pleasurable and that really exciting music might be just as well liked in a situation in which excitement is being sought. In any event, the theory and findings provided part of the way to predict which emotions would be most probably evoked by a given piece of music ... by its level of "psychobiological arousal".
During the intervening years, several follow-up experiments have strongly supported Berlyne's theory. For example, subjects prefer melodies that are intermediate in the number of different pitches used.(3) Intermediate levels of musical complexity are also preferred.(4)
These findings set the stage for a recent particularly important experiment. North and Hargreaves set about to determine if the emotions evoked by music could be predicted from a separate knowledge of the combination of the degree of "liking" and the degree of "arousal potential" of a given composition.(5) They asked subjects (adults of college and more advanced age across a wide socioeconomic range) to rate thirty-two musical excerpts according to the degree to which each piece produced the expression of one of the following emotions: "relaxing", "peaceful", "exciting", "festive", "unsettling", "disconcerting", "boring", and "unstimulating". It turned out that these eight were themselves inter-related, resulting in four major emotional factors: "exciting-festive"; "unsettling-disconcerting"; "boring-unstimulating"; "relaxing-peaceful".
A completely different group of subjects rated each of these same pieces on the degree to which they "liked" the music and also the extent to which they found the music to be "arousing".
The authors then performed statistical correlations between the ratings of the two independent groups. They found that the emotional ratings could be predicted from a combination of the "liking" and "arousal" ratings. For example, a piece that was rated as "exciting-festive" had been rated by the second group as both well-liked and arousing. Music rated as "boring-unstimulating" was rated as low both on liking (i.e., was unpleasant) and arousal. "Relaxing-peaceful" had been rated as well-liked but low on arousal. Finally, music evoking the emotions of "unsettling-disconcerting" was considered disliked but having high arousal.
A simple summary of the North-Hargreaves study is that music seems to evoke emotions by doing two different things: (a) it produces a feeling of liking or disliking; (b) it produces a level of excitement or arousal. Neither of these two factors is itself sufficient to result in a particular emotion. But somehow they work together in the brain to yield actual emotions.
Common sense and common experience tell us that our emotional reactions are prompt and powerful. But neither of these "commons" have access to the underlying processes, related to "hedonic value" (liking) and brain arousal, which yield an apparently single, unitary thing, an emotion. This may help explain why the same music can produce different emotions in the same person at different times: we may like it to the same extent, but if it arouses us differently, then it will evoke a different response. The findings may also guide future direct investigations of the brain substrates of music and emotion. A basic understanding of this relationship should also benefit future uses of music therapeutically. The possibilities are many, the prospects are exciting.
-- N. M. Weinberger
(1) Furnham, A. and Bradley, A. (1997). Music while you work: The differential distraction of background music on the cognitive test performance of introverts and extraverts. Applied Cog. Psych. 11:445-55
(2) Berlyne, A.E. (1960) Conflict Arousal and Curiosity. New York:McGraw Hill; Berlyne, D.E (ed)(1974) Studies in the New Experimental Aesthetics: Steps Towards an Objective Psychology of Aesthetic Appreciation New York: Halstead Press.
(3) McMullen, P.T. (1974). Influence of number of different pitches and melodic redundancy on preference responses. J. Res. in Music Ed. 22:189-204.
(4) Steck, L. and Machotka, P. (1975). Preference for musical complexity: Effects of context. J. Exper. Psych., 104:170-174; Heyduk, R.G. (1975). Rated preference for musical composition as it relates to complexity and exposure frequency. Percep. and Psychophys., 17:84-91; Hargreaves ,D.J. (1984). The effects of repetition on liking for music. J Res in Music Ed., 32:35-37; North, A.C. and Hargreaves, D.J.(1995). Subjective complexity, familiarity, and liking for popular music. Psychomusicology, 14:77-93.
(5) North, A.C. and Hargreaves, D.J. (1997). Liking, arousal potential,
and the emotions expressed by music. Scand. J. of Psych.,
Music Aids Memory Retrieval in Infants
Less is known about
the cognitive abilities of infants than for any other age. Yet
such knowledge is basic to understanding subsequent child development.
In recent years the study of infants has increased greatly and
the role of music is under investigation as part of this effort.
One important issue concerns the nature of infant memory. What
factors do infants use to recall an event? Fagan, Prigot, Carroll,
Pioli, Stein and Franco of St. John's University and Iona College
have addressed the role of music for infant memory (Child Development,
1997, vol. 68, pgs 1057-1066). Three month old infants learned
to move an overhead crib mobile while one of two musical selections
was played; the mobile's stand was attached to an ankle by a ribbon,
so that every kick produced movement. Infants readily learned
the task, indicated by a significant increase in the number of
kicks during music compared to their spontaneous rate. Memory
of this learning was tested one day and seven days later (by
counting kicks/mobile movements) in the presence of either the
music played during the learning or a different selection. Retention
was the same after one day, regardless of the music played. However,
after seven days, the infants remembered that kicking produced
mobile movement only when they heard the same music
that was played during learning. Thus, at the age of three
months, infants use musical cues to remember that they could control
the mobile. The authors suggest that the normal forgetting that
occurs over time (in this case seven days) is not really due to
a loss of the memory but rather to the lack of appropriate retrieval
cues. Thus, the findings show that infants can use music as a
means to remember, so that music defines or gives meaning to a
learning situation, at least as early as three months.
Lafuente, M. J.; Grifol, R.; Segarra, J.; Soriano, J.; and others. (1997). Effects of the Firstart method of prenatal stimulation on psychomotor development: The first six months. Pre- & Peri-Natal Psychology Journal, 11:151-162.
Summary: This study examined the effectiveness of the Firstart
prenatal stimulation method, which attempts to advance he intellectual
and physical development of the fetus by means of musical stimuli.
One hundred seventy two maternity patients were divided into experimental
and control groups. Subjects in the experimental group wore a
waistband equipped with small speakers connected to a tape recorder
which played a series of 8 tapes of violin sounds. Mothers exposed
the unborn babies to an average of 70 hours of music from about
28 weeks to the end of pregnancy. After birth, the mothers charted
the onset of behaviors from 0 to 6 months using the Observational
Scale of Development. The experimental group babies were significantly
advanced from those of the control group in gross and fine motor
activities, in linguistic development, in some aspects of somato-sensory
coordination, and in certain cognitive behaviors.
Editor's Note -- Possible rating bias by experimental mothers, who might have been expecting positive results, should have been controlled by using independent raters.
Music Perception, Cognition and Behavior
Hébert, S. and Peretz, I. (1997). Recognition of music in long-term memory: Are melodic and temporal patterns equal partners? Memory & Cognition, 25:518-533.
Summary: This study tested the relative importance of melody and
rhythm in recognizing music. The subjects were adults who were
not musicians although some had musical experience. They listened
to the same set of musical excerpts from familiar and well-known
tunes that were modified in two ways: (a) melody (pitch structure)
the same but rhythm eliminated (intervals between notes all the
same); (b) melody eliminated (the same note repeated) but rhythm
retained. In general, rhythm itself was found to be a poor cue
for recalling music that is stored in long term memory. However,
the most effective cue for correct identification was the proper
combination of rhythm and melody, the latter being more informative.
Iwaki, Tatsuya; Hayashi, Mitsuo; Hori, Tadao. (1997). Changes in alpha band EEG activity in the frontal area after stimulation with music of different affective content. Perceptual & Motor Skills, 84:515-526.
Summary: Cognitive activities may involve cooperative interactions
among different regions of the cerebral cortex. In particular,
the frontal lobes have been implicated in processes of attention.
To probe cortical processing of attention to music, brain wave
(electroencephalogram, EEG) recordings were obtained simultaneously
from twelve cortical areas under the following conditions: during
a baseline quiet period, during stimulating or calming music,
and during a post music rest period. The subjects were ten university
students. Compared to the pre and post music control periods,
the relationship between the left and right frontal lobes increased
during stimulating music, i.e., brain waves became more similar
between the frontal areas of the two hemispheres. This did not
occur for relaxing music. The authors believe that attention to
music involves increased cooperation between the right and left
Clair, Alicia Ann; Ebberts, Allison. (1997). The effects of music therapy on interactions between family caregivers and their care receivers with late stage dementia. Journal of Music Therapy, 34:148-164.
Summary: Interactions between caregivers and recipients of
care are of great importance but largely have been ignored. This
paper reports interactions between caregivers and care receivers
for fifteen couples in which the recipient was in a late stage
of dementia. The authors examined the effects of music therapy
programming, singing, dancing and rhythm playing on the participation
of family caregivers. They also assessed caregivers' self-perceptions.
Results show that caregiver participation was higher in music
applications compared to conversation ,with the greatest participation
during rhythms playing, followed by singing and dancing. Caregiver's
reports of their own depression, burden, positive and negative
affect and health did not change due to participation. However,
their increased satisfaction with visits in music therapy was
Carmichael, Karla D.; Atchinson, Debra Hairston. (1997). Music in play therapy: Playing my feelings. International Journal of Play Therapy, 6:63-72.
Summary: This paper advocates the incorporation of music therapy into play therapy for children. The authors emphasize that children with emotional conflicts benefit from the expression of their emotions. This article provides a brief review of nondirective play therapy and music play therapy and describes how these can be combined in actual practice. The authors provide two case studies which illustrate this approach.
To improve readability, each selection includes a brief statement
of the findings. Also, instead of including published abstracts
verbatim , summaries have been written in less technical
terms. Occasional editorial notes are provided to help readers
evaluate the reported findings.
On the Importance of Being Accurate
The following opinions about music are intended to provoke thought and sometimes perhaps even argument, but ultimately to energize and enlarge dialogue and inquiry about music.
There is currently a great deal of excitement about the influence of music on behavior. The media pays more attention to findings on music than ever before. Stories in print and on the tube can be found every week, some weeks almost every day. More popular books on music are being published than ever before. Isn't this good? How could it be bad? A neglected area of research is no longer quite so neglected. The consciousness of parents, educators, government bodies and the general public has and is being raised. If nowhere else, this is reflected in the e-mail that comes to MuSICA.
For example, media coverage is almost certainly the impetus for music research projects among students. A few years ago, we received many requests for help from college students who were undertaking studies of the effects of music on learning, memory, and so forth. In 1996-97, the e-mail brought questions from middle school ("junior high") students, 7th and 8th graders. During the current academic year of 1997-98, grade school students (5th and 6th graders) are asking for advice about their own experiments, many of which are being entered in science fairs. Whether pre-schoolers will call for comment on their experimental designs by the year 2000 remains to be seen but seems unlikely ... some extrapolations just don't "extrapolate".
We are happy to give encouragement and whatever appropriate help can be rendered electronically. (Too often, this is after-the-fact, when the study has been completed and things have not worked out.) The involvement of students in music research is an excellent development because such projects have been virtually non-existent and behavioral science has been relatively ignored in the K-12 curriculum. So the growth of student music scientists portends well for the educational enterprise.
Although increased public interest and the resultant rise of student music projects are good, there is also the not-so-good in all of the public press. For example, the "Mozart Effect" has gotten so bent our of shape, one can hardly recognize it. The symptoms are clear and follow a well-trod path. A scientific paper is published. It is novel, potentially important with broad implications. Naturally, it receives attention by the media; it should. But then come the oversimplifications. Not necessarily exclusively from a careless media but also from the fact that we all receive too much information and perhaps unconsciously boil down the complexities of reality into an easily remembered "cognitive bite". And the problem is not confined to the general public; other scientists often do follow-up studies that don't work out as expected.
In the case of the actual "Mozart Effect", in 1993 Rauscher, Shaw and Ky (Nature, vol. 365, pg. 611) reported the results of a genuinely novel experimental approach. They found that listening to a composition of Mozart briefly increased scores on one test of the Stanford-Binet Scale of Intelligence, the Paper Folding task. This sub-test indexes spatial-temporal abilities. Other non-spatial tasks were unaffected. The increase in scores lasted only about ten minutes. This finding was widely reported, again, as it should have been. The transient nature and specificity of effects to a spatial task received a lot less attention. In a follow-up experiment in 1995, the same authors replicated and extended the findings, showing that Mozart was effective whereas less structured music and listening to prose were not. Again, the effects were highly specific to a spatial-temporal task. In fact, this specificity to spatial-temporal reasoning and Mozart's music were both consistent with a previous brain model devised by one of the co-authors, Gordon Shaw. (Since we have been friends for years and jointly developed MuSICA, there might well be an unconscious bias on my part in Dr. Shaw's favor. However, I am not judging his theory or the Mozart experiments here.)
These findings have been encapsulated popularly as "Mozart makes you smarter", which is technically correct but obviously a gross oversimplification. Does it really make sense to talk about being "smarter" for ten minutes? [Long term effects probably require active music making rather than passive listening (e.g., Rauscher et al, 1997, Neurol. Res.), but these are not the Mozart Effect.] Also, other groups of scientists have undertaken replications of the Mozart Effect, with both success and failure. But at least some groups that failed to obtain the effect did not actually attempt to replicate the findings; rather, they used tests that were not specific to spatial-temporal reasoning. But the lack of effect on non-spatial tests had been reported by Rauscher and colleagues, to begin with.
If scientists can make elementary errors in accepting an oversimplified view of the Mozart Effect, it is not surprising that student music scientists also have this problem, generally selecting tasks for which the Mozart Effect is ineffective. Their disappointment at "not getting results'" is a shame because it tends to reduce interest and enthusiasm, and for the wrong reasons. Inaccuracies about the Mozart Effect seems to have gotten out of hand in a book by D. Campbell, which appropriated the name of the finding for its title. Here, distortion reigns as the author essentially tells the readership that all actual or alleged beneficial effects of music are the "Mozart Effect".
My point is not that Rauscher and colleagues are correct and others
are incorrect. The data speak for themselves and any differences
among scientists will be reconciled given sufficient investigation.
Rather, as indicated by the title of this brief essay, it is paramount
to be accurate. Accuracy is needed in the media. Accuracy
is needed in science. Accuracy is needed in popular books. Then,
there would be a reasonable chance that accuracy might "filter
down" to students. Let's not mislead and confuse them. After
all, they are the future.
-- N. M. Weinberger
->     MuSICA Home Page      Cumulative Article Index      Subject Index      Previous Issue      Next Issue