Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Listening to music does not make you smarter - playing it does

The LA Times had an interesting article by Melissa Healy in their Health section on March 1 about the impact of music on the brain.It basically repeats recent research that debunks the so-called "Mozart effect" that listening to music somehow strengthens or improves brain function.  "The Mozart effect? That's just crap," says Glenn Schellenberg, a psychologist at the University of Toronto who conducts research on the effect of music and musical instruction.

She then goes on to discuss other research that does seem to show that the PRACTICE of music does have a demonstrable effect on the brain. Here is link to an article from the Dana Foundation (a leader in this research) that reports on new research from Boston. This also is in keeping with research on aging that shows the practice of an art form - playing an instrument, learning a dance - increases brain plasticity, delaying or diminishing the deterioration of brain function.A monograph supported by MetLife Foundation can be found here that goes into this area in some depth.

I guess since I don't play an instrument - just listen to music fairly obsessively - I will have to make do with my unimproved brain. Listening to music will help dull the pain of not benefiting from the brain-sharpening effect of playing music.

But it is important to not use the diminished support for the Mozart effect as an excuse to find less value in arts education and arts participation. Arts experiences for all people, young and old (not just the practice of art or music or dance) have a host of other measurable beneficial effects on learning and wellness. To quote the conclusion of the LA Times article:

In the end, music listening may come in a distant second to learning in a brain-building contest. But one thing we know beyond a doubt is that it brings pleasure — and few psychologists scoff at the power of that. It promotes well-being. It enhances attention. It protects against the depredation of age. It can even ease pain. "Music is one of those things out there that people enjoy," says Robert Zatorre, a neuropsychologist at McGill University who researches music's effects. "That's already a lot!"


  1. There is fascinating work on music and the brain being done at MIT's Media Lab.

    I could not imagine not having music in my life. I'm glad to see that listening for pleasure is held up as important.

  2. I think there is also benefits you can get from listening to music but i do agree that playing it makes you smarter. For example, i dont know how to play the guitar when i was still young until my brother told me how to and now not only i can play guitar but i can also read notes as well. I want to learn how to play in piano next time and i hope i can be good with it.