To develop an understanding of why skepticism is important in science by looking at actual scientific studies regarding the effect of playing Mozart's music to infants.
In this lesson, students will explore what happens when the media and/or the public discover a scientific study and extrapolate the message into "truth" without the benefit of further study. This lesson will also demonstrate how public policy can be based on a faulty or unreplicated study.
Although not much harm can come from playing Mozart to babies or encouraging music lessons, if this were to happen in other contexts, the results could be dangerous or wasteful of taxpayer money. Students need to become critical thinkers to separate actual science from advertising claims.
According to Benchmarks: "Skepticism is not just a matter of willingness to challenge authority, though that is an aspect of it. It is a determination to suspend judgment in the absence of credible evidence and logical arguments. Students can learn its value in science, and that is important. Given that most of them will not be scientists as adults, the educational challenge is to help students internalize the scientific critical attitude so they can apply it in everyday life, particularly in relation to the health, political, commercial, and technological claims they encounter." (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 287.)
Ideas in this lesson are also related to concepts found in these Common Core State Standards:
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to the precise details of explanations or descriptions.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; trace the text’s explanation or depiction of a complex process, phenomenon, or concept; provide an accurate summary of the text.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.9 Compare and contrast findings presented in a text to those from other sources (including their own experiments), noting when the findings support or contradict previous explanations or accounts.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., quantitative data, video, multimedia) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.11-12.8 Evaluate the hypotheses, data, analysis, and conclusions in a science or technical text, verifying the data when possible and corroborating or challenging conclusions with other sources of information.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.11-12.9 Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible.
This lesson is based on a study on music and spatial task performance originally published in the journal Nature. Students can read about the original research and related follow-up studies. If you wish to to order the study, you can do so from the National Library of Medicine.
To engage students in this lesson, ask them to use The Mozart Effect student esheet to listen to Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major. They should be sure to concentrate on the music more than on what they see in the video. Ask students to describe how it makes them feel. Students will likely respond with emotions: happy, sad, restful, bored, etc.
Students who have heard of the Mozart effect may respond "smarter." If no one says this, ask them, "Do you think this music could make you smarter?"
Then explain that based on studies conducted by researchers in the early 1990s, the state of Georgia started a program to provide every young mother with a CD of Mozart's music and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Foundation handed out free CDs of Grammy-winning classical music at hundreds of hospitals in May of 1999.
In this lesson, students will decide whether or not this was a valid thing to do based on the research.
Introduce the lesson to students by explaining that in 1993 a group of researchers reported that they had conducted a study that found a causal relationship between music and abstract reasoning. (Nature, 1993, 365, p. 611)
Their work seemed to support the view that listening to music can improve the ability to perform complex tasks of spatial reasoning. The researchers gave college students standard tests of spatial reasoning after they had experienced each of three conditions for ten minutes: listening to a Mozart sonata; listening to a relaxation tape; and silence. The subject's performance on spatial reasoning tasks was significantly better after listening to Mozart than after listening to the relaxation tape or silence.
Students should use their student esheet to go to and read these articles:
- Music and Memory and Intelligence from the Neuroscience for Kids website. This article examines the original Mozart Effect study and compares it to subsequent research. It also contains a link where you can order the report on the original study from the National Library of Medicine.
- The Mozart Effect: A Small Part of the Big Picture discusses the various studies that have been conducted on the Mozart Effect.
After students have read the selections, ask them to answer these questions on The Mozart Effect student sheet:
- Who were the research subjects in the original study?
- Explain the procedure used.
- Does this study prove that listening to Mozart will improve brain development in infants? Why or why not?
- What were some of the other studies that followed the original research? What were the findings of these studies?
- Why do you think that other researchers tried to repeat or verify the findings of the original study? Why is it important that they did so?
- (They were college students.)
- (The researchers asked college students to listen to do one of three different things: either listen to Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, listen to a relaxation tape, or just have silence. Immediately after listening to these selections, the students took a spatial reasoning test.)
- (Answers may vary. Encourage students to explain their answers.)
- (One test involved students listening to Mozart before doing a test where they had to listen to a list of numbers, and then repeat them backwards. Listening to Mozart before the test had no effect on the students. In another attempt to demonstrate the Mozart Effect, researchers at Appalachian State University went to great lengths to follow the exact procedures of previous studies. In the July 10, 1999 issue of Psychology Science (vol. 10, pages 366-369), Dr. Kenneth Steele and coworkers reported that they were unable to show that listening to the music of Mozart had any effect on spatial-reasoning performance.)
- (Answers may vary. Encourage students to explain their answers. Their answers should demonstrate that they understand why skepticism is important in science and that they should view scientific research thoughtfully.)
After each student has had an opportunity to answer the questions, discuss the answers with the whole class.
Divide your students into groups and assign each group to one of the resources linked to from the "Learn More" section of the Music and Memory and Intelligence article. Each group should prepare a brief, five-minute report on the topic that they explored.
- Music Education Beyond the Mozart Effect
- Bringing the Classics Into the Classroom
- Anxiety and Memory: Their Effects on Cognition and Musical Performance
After the groups have made their presentations, ask students to reflect on these questions:
- Do you think that the effect of music on memory and intelligence is worth studying?
- How well should a finding be verified before we use it to make policy decisions?
Have students write a brief essay that answers one or more of these questions:
- What is the danger of being either categorically antagonistic or uncritically positive when evaluating scientific ideas and studies?
- In which ways do people fall prey to false scientific claims?
- What are the benefits and liabilities to society when the popular media cover scientific stories?
Consider developing a rubric for assessment of the essay. There are several resources on the Internet that describe the use of rubrics in the K-12 classroom, a few of which are highlighted here.
To learn more about rubrics in general, see Make Room for Rubrics on the Scholastic site.
For specific examples of rubrics, more information, and links to other resources, check out the following sites:
- Kathy Schrock's Guide to Everything: Assessment and Rubrics
- Assessment: Creating Rubrics
- Rubrics for Web Lessons
Finally, you can go to Teacher Rubric Makers on the Teachnology.com website to create your own rubrics. At this site, you can fill out forms to create rubrics suitable for your particular students, and then print them instantly from your computer.
Visit The Skeptic's Dictionary for its take on "The Mozart Effect." (The site also has a number of links to more information on the effect.) Have students discuss the site in general, and whether they agree or disagree with the views presented.