Week 1 Key Elements of an Experiment

Can Beethoven make you smarter? Here is an example of a research study done to explore where listening to classical music can make you smarter.

While reading the study you will discover the key elements of a scientific research study.

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Does Beethoven make you smarter: LISTENING TO MUSIC WHILE STUDYING

The phrase “the Mozart effect” was coined in 1991, but it is a study described two years later in the journal Nature that sparked real media and public interest about the idea that listening to classical music somehow improves the brain. It is one of those ideas that feels plausible.

You may have heard of the “Mozart effect,” that certain mental abilities improve after listening to classical music. When the original study was published there was much popular excitement about it because the findings seemed to suggest a fast and easy way to improve intellectual skills. In fact, based on these findings, the governor of Georgia budgeted for a classical music compact disc (CD) or cassette for each infant born in the state, a doctor in Indiana developed the “Rock-a-Bye Music System,” an apron for pregnant women with pockets to accommodate CD or cassette players, and “Baby Mozart” tapes that claimed to improve intelligence and help develop IQs became a profitable business. Unfortunately the mass media exaggerated and oversimplified the research results. Here is a summary of the original study:

Rauscher and colleagues (1993) decided to test the effects of music on specific mental abilities. They assembled randomly assigned groups of thirty-six college students each. One group heard ten minutes of classical music (Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, K. 488), another group heard a ten-minute relaxation tape (giving instructions and suggestions to reduce anxiety and lower blood pressure), and a third group sat in silence for ten minutes. Then, all subjects completed a part of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test intended to measure spatial reasoning and abstract thinking. The results were that subjects in the music group had statistically significant higher test scores than subjects in the other two groups, whose scores did not significantly differ from each other. This effect lasted for up to fifteen minutes, after which test responses in all three groups were not significantly different from each other. More general factors such as physiological arousal were similar in all three groups since measured pulse rates before and after each listening condition were the same in all three groups.

Reference and Resource

Rauscher, F. H., Shaw, G. L., & Ky, K. N. (1993). Music and spatial task performance.

Nature, 365, 611


1. What was the hypothesis of the Rauscher and colleagues (1993) study?

2. What was the independent variable; in other words, what was manipulated?

3. How was the independent variable operationally defined?

4. What was the dependent variable; in other words, what was measured?

5. How was the dependent variable operationally defined?

6. Why did the researchers measure pulse rates?

7. What conclusions are reasonable from the study data? Do you think that the mass media exaggerated and oversimplified the research results? Why or why not.

8. What was a strength of how this study was conducted—of how it was set up and run?

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