The ‘Mozart Effect’: A Sociological Reappraisal

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This article examines the ‘scientific legend’ of the ‘Mozart Effect’, which grew to become a large-scale cultural phenomenon with political ramifications, focused on early childhood education, during the 1990s and early 2000s in the United States. The search for the ‘Mozart Effect’ and its commercial exploitation followed the finding by Rauscher et al. (1993) that listening to Mozart’s music could improve performance on specific tasks of the Stanford-Binet intelligence test for a short duration of time. The ‘Mozart Effect’, this paper argues, was a particularly successful sociocultural phenomenon because its different components at the time of its emergence were propitiously situated to find particular resonance in late-20th-century America. Those components are identified as the emphasis on neuroscience and early childhood education in the 1990s ‘Decade of the Brain’; the American interest in intelligence-testing and intelligence-enhancing methods, especially in children; the increasingly blurry distinction in musical preferences across socioeconomic classes; and the changed status of classical music in the era of easily-reproducible and arranged listening. The legendary figure of Mozart, at the core of the ‘effect’ that bears its name, is also analysed in depth, as it ensured the neat cohesion of those elements, and contributed to a shift in this phenomenon towards early childhood education in popular and political understandings of the ‘Mozart Effect’. Beyond its value as a retrospective examination of a particularly successful ‘scientific legend’, this article aspires to present a case study in the diverse elements which can, under favourable circumstances, catalyse into popular phenomena of significant magnitude.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCultural Sociology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 13 Nov 2014

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