Does listening to classical music improve a young child's cognitive performance? Belief in the so-called Mozart effect has already had far-reaching consequences for public policy, not to mention the musical choices of first-time parents. In Georgia and Tennessee, for example, a classical music CD is given to every new mother, and in Florida, a new law requires that children in state-run child care facilities listen to classical music daily. Many parents are now wondering whether they should be playing classical music to their infants and toddlers—or whether their failure to do so earlier has blunted untapped intellectual potential in their offspring.
The possible effects of classical music on cognitive performance were first suggested by a study of college students showing that adults who listened to a Mozart sonata performed slightly—though significantly—better on a brief spatial reasoning task than did students listening to a relaxation tape or sitting in silence (Rauscher et al., 1993). The effect on performance was measured immediately after exposure to the music; longer-term effects were not studied. Many studies have attempted to replicate and extend these findings, but there has been no research with infants or toddlers, none involving assessments of brain functioning, and few examining effects of more than a day's duration. Even research with adults that has used the same particular Mozart sonata as the original study (Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, K 448) has yielded inconsistent findings, with some researchers replicating the effect for performance on a brief spatial-temporal reasoning task but most failing to do so, and others finding that the effect can be induced by other pleasant events, such as listening to a story (Chabris, 1999). There have been no studies with infants or young children showing long-term cognitive gains attributable to early exposure to classical music.
In the end, although listening to music and learning to play a musical instrument may have important benefits for children, it is important to realize that there is no shortcut on the path toward developing early intellectual skills.