We know: just seeing the words Mozart and Justin Bieber in the same sentence makes your brain hurt. What could these two musical artists possibly have in common?


A lot, it turns out.


The Mozart effect is the hypothesis that exposure to classical music in early childhood can improve mental development, and/or that listening to Mozart’s music may lead to a short-term improvement in a person’s performance of spatial-temporal reasoning tasks. However, it’s been suggested that listening to other types of music help our special-temporal abilities just as much. Does this mean that Justin Bieber can help make us…more intelligent?


Well, sort of.


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We’re surprised too, Justin.


The Mozart effect


The “Mozart effect” refers to ideas that came out of a 1993 study from the University of California, Irvine. The research showed that when a group of young adults listened to 10 minutes of Mozart’s music before they completed a series of mental tasks, they did better than the groups who listened to 10 minutes of silence or relaxation instructions before the tasks. The Mozart group was temporarily better at spatial tasks; however, this improvement only lasted about 15 minutes.


People began to theorize that there was something about Mozart’s music which led to the improvement. Was it the complexity of the music? Or the fact that Mozart himself was a genius?


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Music, not Mozart


A meta-analysis of over a dozen studies confirmed that listening to music in general—not necessarily music by Mozart—does, in fact, lead to a short-term improvement in the ability to mentally manipulate shapes, but it doesn’t make us more intelligent. In 2010, another meta-analysis showed that other kinds of music worked just as well as Mozart.


One study found that the effect of other types of music was the same, but only if you enjoyed what you were hearing. Supporting this finding was a 2008 study that found that children who listened to pop music before predicting shapes did better than those who listened to Mozart or a discussion of the experiment.


Thus, perhaps what matters is how much you engage with and enjoy the music. That’s good news for Beliebers!


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So, parents, don’t despair if your child is fixated on Bieber or other pop music. If they’re enjoying the music, it can have a positive effect on their spatial reasoning! Just another example of the incredible power of music.


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