What the “Mozart Effect” can teach us about making good data driven decisions

What the “Mozart Effect” can teach us about making good data driven decisions

by Stevie Yap & Ivana Anusic

In 1998, the state of Georgia passed a bill that provided a recording of classical music to each baby born in the state – costing the state $105,000 a year. The following year, the state of Florida passed a bill requiring that every state-funded early childhood education and care facility play 30 min of classical music each day.


These major policy decisions came following a widely publicized research study showing that people who listened to 10 minutes of music by Mozart did better on a spatial reasoning task typically seen in IQ tests than the control group. Dubbed the “Mozart Effect”, this finding made waves in the media, with headlines claiming that listening to Mozart makes you smarter. It also created many opportunities for marketers in the music industry to create products that capitalize on the idea that listening to Mozart may enhance people’s mental ability. The fact that music influences people’s behavior and the decisions they make (e.g., the types of wine they select in a wine store) is not surprising to most people – but the idea that listening to music by Mozart may make you smarter was definitely grabbing the attention of parents, educators, and policy makers across the country.

example of the spatial reasoning task
Example of the type of task used in
this research.

It is important to use data to drive the big decisions for your organization. But it is also crucial that the decisions you make are justified by the data that you have. In the original Mozart Effect study, the people who listened to Mozart were compared to people who sat in silence. Knowing this detail changes our interpretation of the findings. Is listening to Mozart, in particular, the driving factor of enhanced performance? What if the music the control group listened to was not written by Mozart, but by another classical composer? Or a rock band? Would there still be a “Mozart Effect”? Would we see the same effect if the control group did some other task that was more engaging than simply sitting in silence, but not necessarily musical?

The research that followed this initial study evaluated all these questions, and found evidence that the “Mozart Effect” was not limited to music by Mozart (or music at all). Similar temporary gains in mental ability can be achieved by listening to other classical composers ( the “Schubert Effect”), rock music (the “Blur Effect”), or even a narrated story (the “Stephen King Effect”). But policy decisions were made, and the “Mozart Effect” was where state legislators were going to put their money.

It is wonderful to see policy makers using research and data to drive their decision making – but what we can learn here is that asking the right questions and proper study design are also vitally important. It turns out that this finding may not be limited to Mozart, classical, or even music at all. Further, it is not even certain that music exposure in infancy has any long term impact on babies’ mental ability, as the study’s participants completed the spatial reasoning task only 10-15 minutes after they listened to music. Simply reading an engaging story to one’s child or just flipping the radio on to a classical or top-40 station may lead to the same effects , and those public funds may have been spent on programs with better ROI for children, families and the community.

Partner with insighta to design research that optimizes your decision making, and make the best data-driven decisions for your organization. Rely on us to help you ask the right questions and make sure your insights fit the story your data tell.


About insighta

Insighta is a boutique research firm specializing in understanding people and using data to surface insights about your customers, clients, and larger consumer base. At insighta, we are behavioral scientists with real expertise you can leverage to answer real world questions. We combine the the rigor of true science with psychologists’ broad understanding of people, their thought processes, and their behavior to deliver data-driven insights you can trust to drive action and growth in your organization.