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Music in the Womb: Does It REALLY Make Babies Smarter?

Does Mozart REALLY make babies smarter?

Parents — naturally — want the best for their babies.  And these days, part of “the best” is often being “the smartest.”  There have been lots of rumors floating around out there for awhile now (especially since the so-called “Mozart effect” was discovered) that playing music to babies — specifically classical music — while still in the womb will make them smarter.

But does it really work?  Or is it just another way to make new parents crazy?

I should note that I hold a degree in music education, so I know something about early childhood music education, and the effect that music can have on children.  I used to teach small children (4 – 8) before my kids were born.  I also finished about half a psychology degree.  I have a particular interest in this topic!

Briefly, the “Mozart effect” comes from a study that showed that participants who took a test after listening to 30 minutes or so of classical music — specifically Mozart — scored a bit higher than those who didn’t.  It was all the rage when I was in high school, and we even had teachers who would play classical music before or during tests!  In almost every class I took, someone wanted to do a report on it.  They found it fascinating, because they concluded that Mozart actually made them smarter.  This led to the “baby Mozart” type videos and CDs and other mass marketing.

Want to know what I think?

It is generally a bunch of junk.  Classical music acts on certain parts of the brain, producing a calming and focusing effect.  It doesn’t actually make anyone smarter.  It just reduces test anxiety and distraction so that you perform better.  If you didn’t know the answers before listening to Mozart, you still don’t know them after, either.  Simply listening to classical music can’t actually teach you facts that you don’t know.  It can be used in other ways, though — during learning, to boost concentration, memory, and retention; and during tests to reduce anxiety.  (I’m theorizing on the “learning” part, but many people swear working with music playing helps them, and research has shown that if you teach kids facts in song form, they retain it better.)

How does any of this affect unborn babies, if at all?

Classical music doesn’t make them smarter.  It might be interesting for them to listen to, but the idea that the music itself makes them smarter fundamentally misunderstands the way young children learn.  Every experience is novel for an unborn or brand new baby.  They’re most interested in learning about the world around them, especially the people in it.  Music is another interesting and novel sound for them, but it’s not what they care most about.

Better is to talk to your baby yourself, and have your husband/partner do so too.  Babies want to learn to hear your voice, to know what it sounds like.  They’ll recognize it after birth.  It’s also good to hear other sounds that will be in their environment — dogs barking, siblings talking, and so forth.  There’s evidence showing that babies adapt to these sounds and don’t startle after birth if they’ve become used to them.  Teaching them about their everyday environment — something you hardly have to try to do — is far more important than any special gimic, like playing classical music.

That’s not to say, if you like classical music, that you shouldn’t play it.  By all means, do!  But don’t think your baby is going to have an extra edge or actually be more intelligent because of it.

(Personally I think it is the study of music that makes people smart, not simply listening to it.  Music is complex and fascinating, and learning to understand the form and function of what you’re hearing, and to read it and even write it — that sure can make you smarter!  But you can’t teach this to an unborn baby!)

Don’t let people pressure you into all the latest “stuff.”  Don’t worry about playing music to your baby, or reading books to your baby (before birth; after, your baby will probably like seeing the words and pictures), trying to teach your baby a foreign language (that your household doesn’t naturally speak) or doing anything else to try to make your baby “smart.”  Just enjoy your pregnancy, relax, and love your baby.  That’s what really matters to him/her anyway!

What do you think?  Does music make babies smarter?

Top image by jeanpierrelavoie

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