Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Influences of Music on Child Development: Beyond the Mozart Effect

You’ve probably heard that listening to music, specifically Mozart’s music, makes young children smarter. Obviously, this statement isn’t quite on-target, but there might be some substance to the idea that music positively affects children’s brain development. Two recent research studies on the topic of music in child development give us some helpful information that spans the spectrum of professional thought on the subject. So even though that “Young Mozart” CD won’t make your child more intelligent, you might want to hang onto it for other reasons.

Mood, Arousal, and Cognitive Ability

In a study conducted by psychologists at Canadian and Japanese universities, two experiments showed that the effects of music on “intelligence” are really due to individuals’ emotional reactions. Mood and arousal, the two components of emotion, are directly influenced by music – rhythm and other factors determine the degree of arousal, or engagement, as well as the positive or negative quality of a person’s mood. For example, the first experiment with adults showed that the auditory stimulus of hearing a story had the same positive impact on an IQ subtest as listening to classical music (Mozart and Albinoni). The subjects were similarly affected by both music and stories, implying that a heightened level of engagement and elevated mood were the factors behind their increased cognitive ability.

The second experiment in this study analyzed 5-year-old Japanese children’s drawing abilities for temporal length of engagement, creativity, energy, and technical proficiency, comparing children who listened to Mozart and Albinoni to a different group that listened to children’s songs. The group that heard children’s songs was judged to be superior in drawing ability, demonstrating that engagement and mood were the determining factors in drawing success.

Depending on your child’s age, he or she may be more responsive to a positive stimulus that’s more similar to children’s songs or stories than classical music. However, any music with an upbeat rhythm and major tonality tends to elevate mood and aid concentration.

Musical Training and Neuroplasticity

This study showed that after fifteen months of training on a musical instrument, children’s neuroplasticity increased significantly. In other words, musical training positively affected their brains’ ability to adapt to environmental conditions and stimuli. Specifically, these children’s motor abilities and auditory melodic and rhythmic discrimination skills improved noticeably as compared to those of children who did not receive musical instruction. The researchers who conducted the study judged that early musical training could effectively predict adult expertise – and not just in music. By increasing the brain’s plasticity at a young age, it was found that the brain could more readily adapt to changes throughout life, enabling trained individuals to develop expertise.

According to this study, it’s not enough to simply have your child listen to music. Interactive lessons are necessary to obtain increased neuroplasticity; however, having your child listen to upbeat music may improve cognitive ability. With a combination of both, you’ll be sure to give your child the best intellectual opportunities and encourage healthy development.

Guest Post: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, where recently she's been researching different music degree programs and blogging about student life. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.



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