Published on 2022-09-20 by Drew Richardson

What is the Mozart Effect & can it make you more productive?

3 min read

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Classical music has been claimed to help babies learn languages faster and grow up smarter. But what about adults? Can listening to classical music, or more specifically, Mozart, boost your IQ and improve your productivity?

The Mozart Effect refers to the belief that listening to music composed by Mozart can boost your IQ

The term describes a lasting effect to a persons IQ, meaning that after listening to Mozart’s music, you will increase your general intelligence. With Mozart himself being regarded as a genius, and his music long being associated with a the finer things in life, it’s not hard to see how this could be believed to be true.

It was touted by the media during the early 1990s towards mothers of young babies, with the claim that your child will grow up smarter, learn languages faster and have a permanently higher IQ than if they didn’t listen to Mozart’s music.

A Mozart boom began, as businessmen all over the world rushed to sell 18th century music to 20th century mothers. The govenor of the state of Georgia in the US once even wanted to provide free classical music to each newborn child, This get-smart-quick scheme was in full force, with Mozart perhaps comparible to the productivity gurus of today.

With the term being coined in 1991, the rush really took off after a study was released in 1993. So, surely there are some truth to these claims?

The study involved 36 college students who listened to 10 minutes of a Mozart sonata, then completed a spatial reasoning task.

The original 1993 study was conducted by researchers at the University of California, Irvine. The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature.

It involved 36 college students who listened to 10 minutes of a Mozart sonata, then completed a spatial reasoning task which had the subject had to predict what a folded piece of paper would look like unfolded. These kinds of spatial reasoning tests measure the ability to picture a shape in your mind in three dimensions. You may have heard a person with high spatial reasoning capability be called a ‘shape rotator’, although that’s certainly not a scientific term.

The college students were asked to listen to brief excerpts of music including excerpts from Mozart, Stravinsky and Schubert. Interestingly, the study itself makes no mention of the term ‘Mozart effect’, and wasn’t even conducted on children. There is no mention of general intelligence or IQ scores anywhere in the study.

Their spatial reasoning and creativity improved after Mozart

So, does the Mozart Effect actually work? Well, kinda. During the study, there was no change in IQ scores to any of the participants.

However, the study did find that listening to classical music did iliccit a temporary boost in creativity and spatial reasoning ability among subjects who listened to Mozart or other classical composers for 10-15 minutes. This would make sense, because as I mentioned earlier, the study was specifically aimed at spatial reasoning and not IQ.

But what happens after those 10-15 minutes? Do your creativity levels stay high? No — as soon as the music ends, so do its effects. The Mozart Effect doesn't make permanent changes to a person's spatial reasoning or creativity levels; instead it offers only a short-term boost that lasts until new stimuli comes along.

It also started to emerge that Mozart’s music wasn’t alone in producing this effect. It turks out that other genres of music can illicit same effect on a subject's mind. So what's the common link?

But why does this happen?

The leading theory is that the types of music or audio that work have something in common - the listener enjoys hearing them. This causes the listener to become more mentally aroused and ‘warmed up’, and better prepared for the task at hand.

It seems cognitive arousal is the key to a short boost in creativity and spatial reasoning, and a sure fire way to to that is by listening to some music that you like. This makes your mind more active and ready for anything that you throw at it: spatial reasoning tasks in particular.

A larger analysis from 2017 found that other kinds of ambient music, not just Classical, can illicit the same effects, meaning that Mozart isn’t so special after all. This cognitive arousal can be triggered by any form of music that the listener enjoys.

How can we use this effect?

Of course, now that this is known to be a thing, people will likely want to use this to become more productive. So while working, people can play music that they enjoy to boost creativity on their task. Ambient music can also help block distractions and keep your attention fixated on your task at hand, keeping your core focus on the task and making it easier to find a flow state.

For a longer focus session, be sure to pick the right music, or else you’ll end up more distracted and scatter-brained than when you started. No lyrics for starters. But if you just want to rotate shapes in your mind’s eye more effectively, then sure, go ahead and listen to your favourite heavy metal track beforehand.

There are different apps available online that you can use to listen to classical music while working or studying. This is a great way for people who work in an office environment, as well as students who have a lot of homework to complete, to remain concentrated for longer periods of time. Listening to ambient music can help improve your mood and make it easier for you to focus on your work.


If you want to test the Mozart Effect, try listening to classical music while working or studying. You might be surprised at the effect this has on your creativity - but don’t go playing it to your children expecting them to become the next Einstein.