Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Does Music Make You Smarter?

I went to an interesting lecture in the Psychology Department at Stanford today. Glenn Schellenberg from the University of Toronto gave a talk called "Does Music Make You Smarter?" He's been running experiments on this ever since The Mozart Effect study came out.

The first part of his talk was on whether listening to music makes you smarter, a la The Mozart Effect. His hypothesis was that anything that puts you in a positive frame of mind will make you perform a task better. He cited studies showing that college undergraduates who were given a bag of candy or five dollars before a task performed better than students who weren't given treats (The Chocolate Effect?).

In his first experiment to test this hypothesis, he played a Schubert piano piece, which was Track 2 of the CD the original Mozart Effect experimenters used. The subjects scored better on the spatial IQ test, indicating a Schubert Effect. Then he tested a slow, dirge-like piece by Albinoni commonly heard at funerals. The subjects didn't improve their scores, so there was no Albinoni Effect. Maybe only fast, happy music increases spatial IQ. He used four different variations of the same Mozart piano piece: fast-major key, slow-major key, fast-minor key, and slow-minor key. Subjects who heard the fast-major version increased their scores the most, and slow-minor showed no increase.

What if music's not your thing? Schellenberg played a recording of a Stephen King story to test subjects, Mozart to others, and tested them. The same groups switched stimuli at another session. They also reported whether they preferred listening to the music or the story. The ones who liked the story better got a bigger IQ jump after listening to the story, and the ones who liked music got a bigger jump after listening to the music.

But what if you're a 10 or 11 year old kid in England? Another researcher had 8000 schoolkids in Britain listen to three different radio broadcasts before taking an IQ test. One group listened to Mozart, one listened to a popular group, and the third listened to the researcher giving a science lecture. The pop group got a big jump in IQ, and the Mozart and lecture groups didn't increase their scores. So, to 10 and 11 year olds, Mozart is just as boring as a science lecture by an academic researcher.

What if you're a 5 year old in Japan? (You can see, Schellenberg really put the Mozart Effect through its paces.) He had kids in Japan draw pictures before and after a music activity. There were four music activities tested: listening to Mozart, listening to the Albinoni dirge, listening to familiar children's songs, and singing familiar children's songs. Their drawings were compared (by people who didn't know what the experiment was about) and rated on creativity and technical proficiency. Schellenberg also recorded how long the kids drew. Their "scores" went up a little for Mozart, down for Albinoni, and up much more for familiar songs.

So, does listening to music make you smarter? Yes and no, according to Schellenberg. Listening to music you like can help you perform better on an IQ test, just as anything that puts you in a positive frame of mind can help you perform better on many kinds of tasks.

Now, the big question: does taking music lessons make you smarter? And is music special, or do other kinds of lessons make you smarter? Schellenberg advertised for participants in free arts lessons for 6 year olds. The groups took either piano lessons, voice class using the Kodaly method, drama classes, or no lessons. The two music groups both improved their IQ scores by about the same amount, across all the sections of the IQ test, except social skills. The drama group improved in social skills, but not in the "intellectual" IQ subtests. The "no lessons" group showed only the normal development after a year of school.

It was not possible to do a longer-term study, because kids drop out of lessons for various reasons, so you'd have to start with an enormous number of kids to run a study of several years. Schellenberg used questionnaires and statistical analysis to try to find out whether more years of lessons would make you more smarter. He interviewed families with children ages 6 to 12 about music lessons, parental education and family income, and gave the kids IQ tests and looked at their school grades. He found that the kids who took lessons for more years had higher IQs. I asked him whether the music lessons caused the IQs to go up, or if the kids with high IQs tended to stick with lessons for more years. He said you can't really prove which one causes the other, but that he's making a claim, because that's what you do in science, and his claim is that music makes you smarter. He also questioned incoming college students about their music experiences and tested their IQs and found that the smartness you get from music lasts for a long time.

So, there it is: listening to music makes you feel good, if it's music you like, and it can make you temporarily smarter. Music lessons make you permantly smarter. He listed the popular reasons why music might make you smarter, but disagreed with them. I couldn't tell what he thought the reason might be.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Can art make you smart?