Hetland, L. (2000). Listening to music enhances spatial-temporal reasoning: Evidence for the “Mozart-Effect.” The Journal of Aesthetic Education, 34, 105-148.
This study examines whether listening to music temporarily enhances performance on spatial tasks—a phenomenon known as the “Mozart effect.” The researcher conducted two meta-analyses of studies testing the relationship between listening to music and spatial task performance and found support for the Mozart effect, limited to specific spatial tasks—particularly spatial-temporal tasks that require mental rotation in the absence of a physical model.
- The first meta-analysis found that music significantly enhanced performance on a variety of spatial tasks. The mean effect size was small and robust. A contrast analysis demonstrated that music listening specifically enhances performance on spatial-temporal tasks versus non-spatial-temporal tasks.
- The second meta-analysis found that music enhanced performance on spatial-temporal tasks, with a medium and robust mean effect size.
- Findings demonstrated that music other than Mozart was also found to enhance spatial-temporal performance.
Significance of the Findings:
This study provides evidence of the frequently challenged phenomenon of the “Mozart effect.” Although the effect found is short-term, it is consistent through the set of studies examined. The author notes that the findings have “primarily scientific rather than education implications” as one cannot yet draw conclusions about exposure to classical music and increases in children’s intelligence, achievement, or even long-term spatial reasoning skills. However, evidence of a learning transfer is relevant for educators and researchers as it supports the view of the brain as modular, yet also suggests the domains that process music and spatial information are not independent of one another.
The researcher conducted a comprehensive and systematic literature search to identify published and unpublished (to avoid publication bias) studies on music and spatial skills. The criteria for inclusion were that experiments: (1) examined only human subjects, (2) had at least one experimental condition where subjects listened to any musical stimulus for 8-15 minutes, (3) had at least one control condition predicted not to enhance spatial performance, (4) included an outcome measure of spatial task performance, (5) provided relevant statistics to compute an effect size, and (6) controlled for practice effects. The initial search yielded 533 studies, of which 76 included spatial outcomes. Of these, 26 studies (16 published, 10 unpublished), reporting 36 experiments met criteria and were included in the final sample. The first meta-analysis included all 36 independent experiments with 2,465 subjects. The second meta-analysis analyzed the 31 experiments using only spatial-temporal outcomes. These experiments included a total of 2,089 subjects.
Limitations of the Research:
The study’s limitations involve those typically inherent in conducting meta-analyses. One limitation is the likely bias/overrepresentation of published articles because the researcher may have been unable to obtain all relevant unpublished articles. Another limitation involves the inability to improve the quality or method of the original studies, which can potentiate bias or error in the results. (However, the researcher in the current study does attempt to code for characteristics of study quality, which may qualify the overall results). A limitation specific to the current study is the lack of reference to studies with children, a particularly relevant group for this phenomenon, or at minimum a rationale addressing why this age group was not within the scope of the current investigation (e.g., insufficient number of studies examining children).
Questions to Guide New Research:
Are there any long-term effects on spatial reasoning as a result of listening to music? Are findings similar in studies examining children and adolescents?