Off with Taylor and on with Mozart

Many students have heard of and tried chewing gum when studying and then during an exam in an attempt to boost memory, but did you know scientists have found similar results for music helping academic performance? The idea that music can aid in brain development in infants or make you smarter has been much debated for years. It all started in 1993 when researchers published a paper drawing a link between listening to classical music and higher IQ scores. This led to a huge influx of “brain-boosting” products for children and adults alike. Anyone listen to Baby Mozart tapes as a child?

Many still remain skeptical, calling it a fad or wives tale. However, there have been many studies showing results that indicate some conative benefits of classical music. A follow-up research done on the “Mozart effect”, a term referring to the belief that children under the age of 3 who listen to the music of Mozart will have increased brain development, found that a brief exposure to Mozart’s piano pieces were enough to temporarily increase scores of special reasoning tests, increasing IQ scores 8-9 points as a result (Steele et al., 1999). This finding was then explored even further in following years so that music is now used to help a number of aspects of human health and life. For example, in 2011 a German minister released an album of the slow movements of Mozart’s piano concertos in hopes of soothing drivers and reducing road rage in drivers. This may seem silly at first but classical music has been shown to have a number of health benefits that actually make the German minister’s plan much less far-fetched.

One such benefit of music is its effect on blood pressure. A 2004 study done at the University of San Diego found that participants who listened to classical music had significantly lower after they completed a stressful task systolic blood pressure levels than the participants who did not listen to the music (Chafin, Roy, & Christenfeld, 2004). Similary, a 2008 study found that two weeks of music therapy where participants were asked to listen to 30 minutes of classical music was sufficient to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression in pregnant women (Chang, Chen, & Huang, 2008).

Hungarian researchers presented another benefit in their research showing that listening to 45 minutes of classical music before going to sleep can help students with sleep disorders (Scheufele, 2000). And another researcher found comparable results a few years later when they showed classical music working as an effective intervention in reducing sleep problems and suggest that it could be an effective treatment for insomnia (Harmat, Takács, & Bódiza, 2008).

The reduced stress and anxiety paired with improved sleep habits would probably be enough to aid in academic performance by themselves for most students today. An article published by Johns Hopkins School of Education adds even more benefits onto the two previously discussed here and argues that music is an important tool that should be used in classrooms to help facilitate learning. The article states that music first helps set the atmosphere in a study space and often makes learning more fun.

There are three areas where music can play an important role in students’ learning processes. The first is in helping students remember learning experiences and information. Music can increase interest and activates the brain so that a more focused learning state can be achieved. When information is put to a rhythm or rhyme these musical elements help provide a “hook” for memory recall for that information. The second is that specific music types, like classical music, will create a positive learning atmosphere and help engage students in an open learning environment. Music helps keep students who may have a tendency to mind-wander to keep focused on a learning task through maintaining clam and engaged mental states. Lastly, music can facilitate reflection that allows students to employ with their learning on a deeper level and help think about the information in a broader sense. Internal processing, creativity, and personal reflection have been known to be influenced by the addition of background music when learning and these processes can definitely aid in learning and memory performance.

This influence of music on learning atmospheres is an important musical tool that many people overlook. Often people argue that music is too distracting or that they have trouble listening to the music and focusing on what they are trying to study. This may be because they are listening to the wrong type of music, as the previously mentioned study done by researchers at the University of San Diego reported that they tested participants with jazz, pop, and classical music and only classical music had the positive effects, or because they are trying to divide their attention too much. A Russian study published in Human Psychology found that even when you are not paying attention to the music it could still have beneficial effects. In this study reported that children who listened to classical music for an hour a day over a six month period showed brain changes indicating more relaxation even when those children were not asked to actually pay attention to the music that was playing.

So, next time finals period rolls around remember to unplug Taylor Swift and turn on some Beethoven, Bach, or Mozart.

References:

Brewer, C. (1995) Music and learning:integrating music in the classroom. Johns Hopkins School of Education. Accessed on April 18, 2016. Web: http://education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/strategies/topics/Arts%20in%20Education/brewer.htm.

Chafin, S., Roy, M., & Christenfeld, N. (2004). Music can facilitate blood pressure recovery from stress. British Journal of Health Psycholofy, 9(3): 393-403. DOI: 10.1348/1359107041557020.

Chang, M.Y., Chen, C.H., & Huang, K.F. (2008) Effects of music therapy on psychological health of women during pregnancy. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 17(19): 2580-2587. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2007.02064.x.

Harmat, L., Takács, J., & Bódiza, R. (2008) Music improves sleep quality in students. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 62(3):327-335. DOI:10.1111/j.1365-2648.1008.04602.x.

Scheufele, P.M. (2000) Effects of progressive relaxation and classical music on measurements of attention, relaxation, and stress response. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 23(2): 207-228.

Steele,K.M., dalla Bella, S., Peretz, T., Dunlop, T., Dawe, L.A., Humphrey, G.K., …Olmstead C.G. (1999).Prelude of requiem for the “Mozart effect”?. Nature, 400(6747):827-828. DOI: 10.1038/23611.

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