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Does Playing Mozart For Babies Really Make Them Smarter?

You’ve probably heard the myth – playing Mozart music to a baby will turn them into a genius. Take those headphones off your wife’s belly so your kid-to-be can hear this too: listening to Mozart (or anything really) in utero doesn’t make them smarter. Ditto once they’re born or old enough to lord over the playlist on every car trip. Sadly, it seems the so-called “Mozart Effect” only creates child prodigies when the child in question is actually Mozart.

The Mozart Effect was first referenced in 1991 and popularized 2 years later in the journal Nature, even though the authors of the paper never actually used the term. They also never studied children, because psychological studies only get funded to observe broke-ass college students. In fact, all they really proved was that listening to Mozart resulted in a slight, comically short-term improvement in spatial tasks involving folding paper, not an uptick in overall or long-term intelligence.

Subsequent research and meta-analysis of those studies confirmed the above; subjects in 2006 and 2010 performed those same tasks just as well if not better after listening to Stephen King novels, Blur, or (and this is completely true) “Return Of The Mack.”

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To recap, the Mozart Effect might as well be the Mark Morrison Effect, or the Pretty Much Anything Effect, and refers to the idea that listening to something you enjoy will slightly improve your ability to do mental origami for the next 15ish minutes. Oh, and one more thing — anything that results in cognitive arousal, aka wakes your ass up, works just as well. So, coffee. Thanks, science.

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Despite all that, the myth of the Mozart Effect persists. However, there is one viable way to use music to make your kid smarter: force them to play an instrument. A year of piano lessons, combined with regular practice, can increase IQ by as much as three points according to cognitive neuroscientist Jessica Grahn. Turns out your parents were on to something with those lessons — guess you can’t blame them for how you turned out.