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Music and Cognitive Abilities

Author(s): E. Glenn Schellenberg


Source: Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 14, No. 6 (Dec., 2005), pp. 317-320
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IN PSYCHOLOGICAL

CURRENT DIRECTIONS

Music

and
Schellenberg

University

of Toronto, Mississauga,

music

ABSTRACT?Does

and music

to nonmusical

reliably
music

variety
term
and

The

cognitive
stem

and
mood,

impact

evidence

such

on

on
are

short
level

arousal

cognitive

affect

music

similar

have

listening

to obvious con
benefits that cannot be attributed
'
as
income
and parents
such
variables
founding
family
have

The

mechanisms

association

underlying

this

intelligence;

cognitive

to be determined.

yet

KEYWORDS?music

cognition;

develop

to those

structions.

were

can

fixes

seen

be

irrational appeal of crash diets, get-rich-quick


smart-fast

Is the claim

programs.

as a route

of music

to enhanced

intelligence yet another self-improvement fantasy? In the pages


that follow, I outline the origins of the claim and evaluate the
Intellectual

to music

of exposure

benefits

would

be noteworthy

if (a) they extend to nonmusical abilities, (b) they are systematic


and reliable, and (c) they are more likely to result from hearing or
playing
tures,

music
where

musical
tening

than

only

other

activities.

everyone

virtually

experiences
and,

from

society
lessons

cases,

in other

in music

participates

in Western
in some

Unlike

typically
and

cul

involve

performing.

lis

Music

lessons

for

By
several

contrast,
years.

relatively
The

few

individuals

take music

of music

consequences

listening

chology,

to Glenn
correspondence
Schellenberg,
at Mississauga,
of Toronto
University

Canada,

L5L

1C6; e-mail:

smarter.

Department
Mississauga,

g.schellenberg@utoronto.ca.

Volume 14?Number 6 Copyright ?

of Psy
Ontario,

in
was

effect,"

the public

brain

connections

neural

the

Presumably,
effect

in infancy?when

Subsequent

imagination

that

long-term

plasticity

is greatest?might

could

have
met

attempts

replication

rationale

underlying

is reliable,

fa
impact.

long-term
with

to

exposure

success

mixed

(Chabris et al., 1999), however, which could be attributable to the


weakness

of

the

or

effect

the

on

reliance

group

testing

(Schellenberg, in press). The original authors proposed that passive


to music

by Mozart

composed

and they attributed


particular,
or the wrong
music
task. But
between

two unrelated

Priming
that occurs
between

is at odds
robust

with

example,

cross-modal

sentential

priming

structure

implied

are

by

a related

to the wrong

evident
a

the word

(i.e.,

re

phenomenon

link.

word,

priming

the available

psychological

an obvious
effects

of the same word,

presentations

with

in

abilities

spatial
failures

of cross-modal

their proposal

domains

stimuli

primed

the replication

is a relatively

search.

In language,

for

for subsequent

homonym,

repetition,

and

the

semantic,

phonological, and syntactic priming, respectively).


in Chabris et al. (1999) motivated specu
The meta-analysis
lation that the Mozart effect, when evident, could be explained
as an artifact

and mental
Address

"Mozart

captured

making,

listening is ubiquitous, both purposefully (e.g., listening to the


radio) and incidentally (e.g., background music in stores and
restaurants).

the news

if the short-term

listening

evidence.

available

to relaxation

the

seemingly

schemes, and get

by Mozart

listened

as

known

com

composed
or

in silence

finding,

infants

that

cilitate

in the

The

undergraduates,

music
for quick

sat

and led to social-policy changes. These included the distribu


tion of a CD of Mozart's music to every baby born inGeorgia and
the formation of a cottage industry of music recordings designed
was

eagerness

of music

recording

who

publicized widely in the popular media. Although the effect was


found to be brief (lasting 10-15 minutes) and the participants

to make

ment

People's

to a

listened

pared

effects.

lectual

education.

interest in the potential benefits of music listening


Widespread
was sparked by the publication of an article (Rauscher, Shaw, &
Ky, 1993) that reported superior spatial abilities for participants

performance;

tell a different story. They are


small but general and long-lasting
intel

with

MUSIC LISTENING

indicates

effects

of music

from those of

intellec

performance

that

and qualitatively

lessons.

who

turn,

than

and

music

in childhood

lessons

associated

the
in

other

experiences

but

from

which,

available

tests,

intellectual

only if the benefits apply


and if music is unique in

to enhanced

leads

listening
of

Music

abilities

the effects.

producing

music

are likely to differ quantitatively

listening

to confer

between

be notable

would

Music

smarter?

you

association

Any

tual functioning

that

make

Canada

Ontario,

lessons have been claimed

advantages.

Abilities

Cognitive

E. Glenn

SCIENCE

performance.

of arousal.

Optimal

levels

of arousal

activation) have widespread,


In line with

this

view,

(i.e.,

facilitative

colleague

and

physical

effects on
I (Nantais

and Schellenberg, 1999) replicated theMozart effect (compared


to sitting in silence) but we also found a "Schubert effect" of

2005 American Psychological Society

317

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Music

identical
with

who

Mozart

preferred
to the

than

effect

with

who

contrasted

disappeared

after

(see

showed

story

sain,

2001)

I (Thompson,

and

Husain,
subsequently

influences

the

performance

pants

heard

sounding)

on a

or a

key,

is one

example
and

can

tasks.

Our

we

abilities.

We

also

positive
The

Albinoni.
testwas

effect

size

statistical

by

Schellenberg,
of

minor)

were

listeners

completed
arousal

turn,

accounted

ities.

Yet

on

for

resulted

to the Mozart

the

piece

spatial

task.

the majority
tested

to Mozart

in differences

of processing

speed

abilities

or to Albinoni
When

(major

after

and mood,

was

better

listening

to
in

abil
under

expe

performance

following

In

after

songs,
and

Mozart

than itwas following Albinoni.

were

listening

on a

those

stimuli

(or

among

5-year-olds
or familiar
times

Drawing

to be more

judged

can

creative,

to enhanced

lead

of cognitive

as a consequence

similar

These

ability.

of coffee

or a small

by Mozart
for

consequences

can

music

priate
least

for

tend

beyond

speed

and

benefits

short

abilities.

spatial

In turn,

measures
creativity,
be

might

of

evident

have

effects

spatial

among

of arousal
to tests

ability
similar
infants,

or

to

special

age-appro
at

and mood,
and mood

ex

of processing

short-term
whose

2000;

Listening

upbeat,
level

partici

Isen,

unique

arousal

in principle,

see

2004).

Rather,

listeners'

improve

periods.

not

does

giving

(e.g.,

of candy;

Jones, & White,

Smith, Osborne, Mann,


composed

impact
bag

ef

to differ

to nonmusical

of exposure

emotional

cognitive

arousal

level

is

altered by exposure to maternal singing (Shenfield, Trehub, &


Nakata, 2003). It iswell established that infants perform best in
when

laboratory

they

are

and

alert

Albinoni
Musical

Experimental

songs.

singing)

of tests

variety

that arise

that have
a cup

pants

the

Schubert-Silence

to pop

of creativity

Albinoni,

familiar

singing

Mozart

Mozart-Silence

11-year

listening

in press),

al.,

to Mozart,

listening

the drawings

music

sum,

music

(Schellenberg,

the

in arousal
also

&

which,

in spatial

et

(Schellenberg

or after

longer,

from

the

led

conditions,

nonspatial

were

before

manipulations

of the variance

in press).

& Tamoto,

The
across

and moods

and

and

fects are mediated by arousal and mood and are unlikely

Thompson,

manipulated

after

In a test

discussion.

crayons

performance

advantage

advantage

(Husain,

were

spatial

on

test

10-

exposed to familiar songs (a "children's play


The
effects did not differ between the listening and
song effect").
singing groups (see Fig. 2).

to

or mood

in arousal

study

Mozart

study

listened

Hunter,

a test

a
levels

another

graduates
Nakata,
rience

means,

on

advantage

the Mozart

and

listening

for

is

under

group

for the children

effect

higher

after

with

(happy

the tempo (fast or slow) and mode

same

different

than

changes

In another

2002),
the

to Mozart

When

were

and mood

in magnitude

identical
mood.

arousal

of the Mozart

test disappeared.

spatial

or

listening

and

constant

that

after

virtually

in arousal
held

found

children

younger

children's

(compared to silence) but no "Albinoni effect" on a test of spatial


more

or a scientific

Mozart

drew

a Mozart

observed

age

I (Schellenberg

and
effect"

spatial

en
that

(by Blur and other bands) compared tomusic composed by

partici

in a minor

by Albinoni

piece

predicted,

which

mood,

in a major

by Mozart

slow-tempo

that

on a

better

to music

the

not

reveal

findings

for

a "Blur

are

mood

listening

pleasant

reported

and

available

Hallam

example,

performed

arousal

after

and

arousing
For

in press)

music

of a stimulus

the

performance

to be

who

of

but

children,

investigation.

olds,

arousal-and-mood

of cognitive

piece

As

key.

level

variety

fast-tempo

(sad-sounding)

the

arousal

perceiver's

affect

formulated

to Mozart

Listening

hypothesis:

for

Hallam,
& Hu

Schellenberg,

measures

cognitive

thought

the

opposite pattern (a "Stephen King effect").


Thompson,

available
hanced

to Mozart

listening
the

preferred

Abilities

Paper-and-pencil

Listeners

preferences.

better

performed

Listeners

story.

the

story,

interacted

performance

was

to Mozart

listening

to a narrated

listening
1) but

Fig.

When

magnitude.

and Cognitive

content.

Familiar-

Familiar

Listening

Singing

Experience

Mozart-Story

Comparison

scores on the paper-folding-and-cutting


Fig. 1. Mean
spatial test in the
and control
conditions
(Nantais & Schellenberg,
1999).
music-listening
The figure shows a Mozart
effect (left), a Schubert
effect (middle),
and,
involved
when the control condition
listening to a story, no effect (right).

et al.,
2. Mean
adult ratings of children's
drawings
(Schellenberg
to
drew after one of four musical
2005). Children
experiences:
listening
to Albinoni,
to familiar
children's
Mozart,
songs, or
listening
listening
raters (blind to group membership)
rated
songs. Adult
singing familiar
the drawings.
indicate more
favorable
of the
ratings
Higher
appraisals
Fig.

drawings

relative

to a baseline

(no music)

drawing.

318 Volume 14?Number

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E. Glenn

Schellenberg

MUSICLESSONS
turn now

We

to the

issue

tellectual

music

of whether

lessons

non

confer

I (Schellenberg, 2004) conducted the only


controlled experiment to date that included random assignment

musical
of

benefits.

individual

tions.

One

to music

children
and

hundred

or

lessons

forty-four

condi

comparison
were

6-year-olds

instruction.

Two

control

received

groups

or

lessons

no lessons. All four groups had reliable increases in full-scale


from

the

known

to the

first

second

session.

testing

school.

of attending

consequence

two music

The

IQ

are

increases

Such

groups

did not differ in this regard, nor did the two control groups, but
the increase in IQ was greater for the music groups than for the
control

groups

quence

of elevated

lectual
groups,

(see

abilities

This

3).

Fig.

on

performance
(e.g.,

the music

or

verbal

groups

spatial).

had

was

difference

subset

specific

of

Compared

across

intel

the

four

main areas of intellectual ability measured by theWISC-III (i.e.,


the four index scores, see Fig. 3). An incidental finding was that
the drama group had increases in adaptive social skills thatwere
larger
This

than

in the other

those

experiment

three

groups.

evidence

provided

that music

cause

lessons

improvements in intellectual ability. My finding of broad intel


lectual benefits of music lessons is also consistent with the lit
erature

as

a whole

reports

of

positive

reading,
music

(Schellenberg,
associations

mathematical,
lessons

of

in press),

longer

between

verbal,
duration

and
be

which

music

spatial
accompanied

includes
lessons

by

and

larger

such

studies

experimental

I also

research,

previous
as

income

family

constant

held

For

in the

and

measured

confounding
which

education,

parents'

statistical

analyses.

as a standardized

grades

in school.

modest

but positive

remained

The

when

with

the different

areas

and

of academic

and

education,

across

extending

Once

four

the

or social

achievement,
measure

the outcome

was

Adult Intelligence

not

(math,

of

predictive

For

behavior.

an entire

in non

IQ test

adult

aca

IQ,

the undergraduates,
(the Wechsler

orWAIS-III). The association

Scale-Ill,
music

of playing

years

was

activities

out-of-school

index

achievement

reading) but not to social skills. Involvement

spelling,
musical

that

constant.

held

and

regularly

had

variable

parents'
were

activities
broad,

scores

income,

family

and

lessons

outcome

each

WISC

achievement

of music

of months

were

the effects

IQ

was

be

smaller

than

the one observed in childhood but it was statistically reliable


even after accounting for individual differences in family in
come

and

education.

parents'

These

correlational

ex

findings

tend those of the experimental study by showing that real-world


effects of musical training on intellectual abilities are (a) larger
with longer periods of training, (b) long lasting, (c) not attrib
utable to obvious confounding
of nonmusical
are

What

is that

and (d) distinct

variables,

from

activities.

out-of-school

the underlying

mechanisms

the association

driving

lessons and intellectual ability? One possibility

between music
in

number

in nonmusical

involvement

the entire

included

test of educational

association

reliable

again,

tween

measures

outcome

the children,

III as well

those

Would

abilities.

to

demic

to the control

increases

larger

a conse

not

longer-term

The participants were 147 children and 150 undergraduates.

administered

drama

contrast
variables
were

an entire standardized IQ test (theWechsler Intelligence Scale


for Children-Ill, orWISC-III) before entering first grade (at age
6) and again between first and second grade (at age 7). In the
interim, two groups of children received 36 weeks of keyboard or
vocal

Because

benefits?

would likely suffer from differential attrition across conditions,


I (Schellenberg, 2005) tested this question correlationally. In

music

because

are

lessons

the

school-like,

intellectual

of attending school are exaggerated by the positive


of
additional schooling on IQ. From this perspective,
impact
drama lessons might be insufficiently school-like
(e.g., they
benefits

include

benefits

and

enjoy

including
music,

reading

scores

on

PS

Scale for
the Wechsler
Intelligence
re
outcome measures
for groups of children
(WISC-III)
or no lessons
vocal
lessons,
lessons, drama
lessons,
ceiving keyboard
than the
groups had larger increases
2004). The music
(Schellenberg,
= Full-Scale
drama-lessons
and no-lessons
IQ, VC
(FSIQ
(control) groups.
= Verbal
=
Index,
Index, PO
Organization
Perceptual
Comprehension
=
FD = Freedom
from Distractibility
Index, PS
Processing
Speed Index.)

Fig. 3. Mean
Children-Ill

difference

Volume 14?Number?

in one

of these

lessons

attention

focused

fine-motor

or a

abilities

would

and

other

out-of

ought

to have

be

special

that many

activity

only

children

basis.
stems

train

lessons

skills,
could

lessons

the association

that music

the association

Although

FD
PO
VC
WISC-IIIOutcome

FSIQ

Music

is that

possibility

although

or chess

a school-like

of abilities

stellation

up),

reading

to do on a regular

choose

second

ities

to music.
represent

they

dressing

as

such

similar

because

and

pretending
activities

school

improve?abil

concentration,

expressing

memorization,
and

emotions,

be a consequence

of

so on.

improvement
nature

the diffuse

subset,

particular

the con

from

and

of

the association implicates the contribution of multiple factors. The


type

particular
method)
other

might
than

of music
have

lessons

more

IQ. For example,

(e.g.,

the

effects

specific
keyboard

lessons

on

are as

by prosody

in speech,

but

voice

lessons

good

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All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

as drama

the emotions
have

ficial effect (Thompson, Schellenberg, & Husain, 2004).

?519

teaching

measures

outcome

lessons in improving children's ability to decode


conveyed

or

instrument

no

bene

Music

A third possibility
ment

is thatmusic promotes intellectual develop

of its inherently

because

and Cognitive

nature.

abstract

For

to music

IQ attributable

a tune

example,

Abilities

sage

The

lessons.

is that extracurricular

benefit

mes

take-home

simplest

activities

child

development.

is defined solely by relational information. A listener can identify a


particular tune (e.g., "Yankee Doodle") when it is played fast or
at a

slow,

In other
must

or a low
pitch

high

words,

tunes

are abstractions.

even

farther

generalize
relational

identical

on a

level,

similar
on

variations

not

but

To

theme).

illustrate, the opening bars of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony have a


repeated motive that varies in absolute pitch (different starting
tone) and in relative pitch (major third then minor third), yet lis
teners

the

hear

as a

motive

second

of its iden

because

repetition

tical rhythm and melodic contour. Learning to think abstractly and


to

recognize

intellectual

across

similarities

musical

more

development

contexts

could

Recommended
Isen, A.

representations

that have

(e.g.,

so on.

and

guitar,

Listeners'

to patterns

information

or a

piano

facilitate

(See References)

Schellenberg,

E.G.

(2004).

Schellenberg,

E.G.

(in press).

music

and

are

language

both

communication

auditory

Craig Chambers, Kate McLean,


and Sandra Trehub provided helpful comments on earlier ver
of the manuscript.

as

the

whereas

vocabulary),

of music

effects

lessons

REFERENCES
Chabris,

systems, the positive effects of bilingualism are evident for fluid


intelligence (i.e., executive control) but not for crystallized in
telligence (e.g., knowledge acquired through experience, such
extend to both domains.

CF.,

L.A.,

Effect'?

music

make

listening

The

G., Thompson,

yes.

to short-term

and
answer

positive

the short-term benefits of music

is qualified because

listening do
not appear to differ from those associated with other stimuli that
optimize arousal level or elicit mild positive affect. The mech
anisms

the

driving

more

obscure.

intellectual

activities

of-school

benefits

Similar

are

that

of music

benefits
could

be

derived

from

school-like.

similarly

out

other

are

improves
is similar

to

identify

in music

trained
abstract

or

reasoning,

acquiring

the underlying

a second

is a domain

(c) music

lessons,

(d) acquiring

Future

language.
more

mechanisms

musical

knowledge

research

could

definitely

no.

Short-term

of music

benefits

positive

lis

tening dissipate rapidly as listeners' arousal level and mood


fluctuate with time and experience. Although music lessons have
relatively long-term benefits, the effort involved (weekly lessons,
daily practice) can hardly be construed as a quick fix. Depending
on the perspective of the child and his or her parents, the benefits
of a few IQ points may or may not be worth the costs in time,
money,
(e.g.,

and
drama

effort.
lessons)

Moreover,
have

different
salutary

activities

extracurricular

effects

in other

domains

social skills) that could be as valuable as the modest

(e.g.,

increase in

E.G.
Schellenberg,
of preference.
Psychological

EH.,

Shaw, G.L.,
Nature,

performance.

making.
of Emotions

E.G.

Schellenberg,
music

lessons

Music

The

(1999).

lessons

(2005).
Long-term
and IQ. Manuscript

pp.

and

enhance

positive
submitted

&

(2nd ed.,

Mozart

Music

(1993).

In M. Lewis

effect:

An

10, 370-373.

Science,

& Ky, K.N.


365, 611.

E.G.
(2004).
15, 511?514.

Science,

task

spatial

IQ. Psychological
associations

between

for publication.
The truth about

to music:
E.G.
the
(in press) Exposure
In G.E. McPherson
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