For all the parents hoping that classical music CDs and music classes will give their kids an intellectual leg up, Harvard researchers have some bad news: Mozart won’t boost your IQ.
Two studies published today in the journal PLOS ONE bust the myth. In the first, researchers reviewed dozens of studies, and found just one that used randomized trials and showed a positive link between music and IQ. Even then, the effect was so tiny — 2.7 points on an IQ test after one year of music lessons — that it barely registered as statistically significant.
“More than 80 percent of American adults think that music improves children’s grades or intelligence,” said researcher Samuel Mehr, a Harvard Graduate School of Education doctoral student. “Even in the scientific community, there’s a general belief that music is important for these extrinsic reasons — but there is very little evidence supporting the idea that music classes enhance children’s cognitive development.”
Next, Mehr conducted his own research, teaching music and visual art classes to 4-year-olds.
“We wanted to test the effects of the type of music education that actually happens in the real world, and we wanted to study the effect in young children, so we implemented a parent-child music enrichment program with preschoolers,” Mehr said. “The goal is to encourage musical play between parents and children in a classroom environment, which gives parents a strong repertoire of musical activities they can continue to use at home with their kids.”
Mehr then tested the kids in four specific areas of cognition, which is designed to pick up subtle cognitive benefits better than a general IQ test. The tests showed no evidence that the musical training had affected intelligence.
But don’t pull your kid out of Suzuki violin just yet: Mehr argues there are plenty of other benefits to music education.
“We don’t teach kids Shakespeare because we think it will help them do better on the SATs, we do it because we believe Shakespeare is important,” he said. “Music says something about what it means to be human, and it would be crazy not to teach this to our children.”