There's very little evidence to suggest that playing classical music in the background can enhance our mental performance, according to Dr. Oliver Sacks, a professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University and the author of "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat."
"This so-called Mozart Effect was described, actually, in a very modest way about 15 years ago," Sacks explained in an interview with BigThink.com, "and it then got taken up by the media and hyped and exaggerated in a way which was rather embarrassing to the original describers."
But that's not to say that music has no effect at all on our mental performance. "Real engagement with music, and especially performing music or listening attentively, can make a great deal of difference, especially early in life," he asserted.
Sacks gave the example of the Suzuki method, an educational philosophy in which children are taught a specific instrument, usually the violin, beginning at an early age. "A year of Suzuki training can not only enhance one's musicality and alter the brian quite visibly, but the effect then seems to leak over, to some extent, into forms of visual thinking, logical thinking, pattern recognition and so forth," he said.
The bottom line? If you want to be smarter, don't listen idly to Mozart's works; learn to play them.
WATCH (Sacks' discussion of music can be found between the 0:46 and 3:41 marks):
More:Mozart Mental Abilities Mozart Cognitive Performance Mozart Mental Performance Listening To Mozart Mozart Effect
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