To What Extent Can Music Improve a Child's Intelligence?

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Psychology Extended Essay:

To What Extent Can Music Improve and Develop Intelligence in Children?

Tanya Z. Waqanika

City and Islington Sixth Form College


The Effect Music has on the Brain

Word Count: 3781

Date: February 27th 2014


This essay consists of an investigation of To What Extent Can Music Improve and Develop Intelligence in Children. As the ‘Mozart Effect’ suggested the notion that music could improve spatial intelligence temporarily, it also brought into question whether music could also improve and develop other types of intelligence. The focus of this essay was therefore to determine if music did improve intelligence in children at all, which specific types of intelligence it improved and the extent to which it made an improvement.

This investigation looked at how music affected linguistic intelligence, mathematical intelligence and IQ in children. I have used a combination of scientific and psychological journals, psychology textbooks and online resources in order to determine the ways in which music could improve each area of intelligence. I will also be investigating whether music actively causes these intelligences to develop and improve or if a predisposition to higher intelligences causes a child to be more inclined to take up and persist with music instruction instead.

Throughout the research of this investigation, I was able to conclude that music appeared to have a significant effect on linguistic intelligence, particularly to do with second language acquisition. Music did not seem to improve mathematical intelligence overall, however it made proportional concepts in maths more understand. The way in which music affected IQ tended to lean one way or another, it seems likely that children with a generally higher intelligence would be more inclined to take up music lessons, and those music lessons would serve to reinforce their intelligence as a result. It was also suggested that music could be used as an educational aid, and that further research could look into how music affects learning specific languages, amongst other things.

Table of Contents


Music is a fundamental part of our lives and it exposes itself to us every day, whether it is by a catchy jingle from an ad on TV or this year’s hit new songs on the radio. Music is able to affect everyone in a multitude of ways, such as eliciting strong emotional responses or improving creativity. In recent years, researchers have suggested that music could even have a positive effect on our intelligence. ‘The Mozart effect’ is a phenomenon where listening to the works of the famous classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would supposedly improve the listener’s intelligence afterwards. When Rauscher et al (1993) suggested the possible existence of ‘The Mozart effect’ it captured the public’s attention and lead to the public belief that exposing children to classical music would boost their intelligence. In May 2005, the BBC reported that many US hospitals had started to provide new mothers with classical CDs for their babies (North and Hargreaves, 2008) because of the Mozart effect. The ‘Mozart Effect’ seemed too good to be true and indeed, when researchers replicated the study, they found that it was; it turned out that intelligence scores did not vary as much as the ‘Mozart effect’ had predicted  (Stough, Kerkin, Bates & Mangan, 1994). Three different meta-analyses confirmed that IQ scores did not increase by as much as previously indicated and even that the ‘Mozart Effect’ was not just limited to works by Mozart, however they also found that IQ scores to do with spatial intelligence did increase by a couple of points (Chabris, 1999; Pietschnig, Voracek, & Foremann, 2010; Hetland, 2000). Even though the Mozart effect did not improve intelligence to the initial extent that Rauscher had claimed it had, it did have a noticeable effect on a certain type of intelligence. The notion that music could have a positive effect on specific types of intelligence was enough to lead researchers to investigate which types of intelligence were the most positively affected and to what extent.

In recent years, researchers have found positive correlations between students who had taken music lessons and specific intelligences (Gardiner, Fox, Knowles and Jeffrey 1996; Gromko and Poorman, 1988; Rauscher and Zupan, 2000; Schellenberg, 2004). Some of these intelligences include linguistic intelligence (Schlaug, 2008), mathematical intelligence (Vaughn, 2000; Vaughn, Winner 2000; Spelke 2008) and general IQ (Schellenberg, 2006). Researchers have also found positive correlations between music instruction and high school grades (Gouzouasis, Guhn, Kishor 2007; Vaughn, Winner, 2000). Of course these are all correlational studies and do not specify a causal effect, however, if music is found to actively cause an increase in intelligence, this could help improve how young children are educated in the future. Therefore, the aim of this essay is to investigate if there is a cause-effect relationship between music and specific kinds of intelligence, and To What Extent Music Can Improve and Develop Intelligence in Children.

To do this, I will be analysing and evaluating studies to do with how music affects linguistic intelligence, mathematical intelligence and IQ. My thesis is that music is able to greatly improve and develop certain types of intelligence as it requires, develops and utilises many transferrable skills, such as reading, listening and problem solving.

The Effect of Music Instruction on Intelligence

Music and Linguistic Intelligence

        The definition of linguistic intelligence is the ability to effectively use and understand written and spoken language. Typically, a high linguistic intelligence is associated with making learning a second language easier and an enhanced verbal abilities, which include being able to read and write proficiently.

Learning how to play music is very similar to learning a new language, as like language, there are certain rules to adhere to (e.g. chords, harmonies, octaves, etc) to produce music, which are similar to grammatical rules and learning how to read a music score is almost identical to learning how to read a new alphabetical writing system. Like language, music is also used as a way of expressing oneself through tone, pitch and sound.         Within music, a vast majority of specific terms are written in Italian, such as ‘adagio’, which means to play slowly and ‘adagissimo’ which means to play very slowly. Common terms like these demonstrate a simple example of a superlative structure in a second language, which would prime the child’s mind for acquisition of a second language as they would be able to recognise, construct and apply said structure with a practiced ease.

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Petitto (2008) found that adults who had received some form of musical instruction during their childhood had a better fluency and understanding of a second language when compared against adults who did not received any musical instruction. Whilst this indicates that music does have a positive effect on second language acquisition, it is entirely correlational and therefore does not identify whether the musical instruction was the cause of this difference. Petitto also does not mention how big her sample size was, which makes these results difficult to generalise. Despite this, this study is supported by Lowe (1995). Lowe found that ...

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