Many expectant mothers have been told to play Mozart during their pregnancy because it’s believed to increase a child’s IQ.
The idea stems from a 1993 study of college students who listened to Mozart before completing a paper-folding task. Those who listened to the famed Austrian composer did better on the test than those who didn’t.
That convinced some mothers to play Mozart for their children, hoping to spur their inner genius. But it appears Amadeus didn’t corner the market on baby brain development.
Whether Mozart really increases a child’s IQ is up for debate—the effect is usually temporary—but new research shows music can help a child’s auditory system for up to six months after birth.
How ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ Boosts Baby’s Hearing
Researchers at the University of Helsinki recently published a study in the journal PLOS One that shows children can remember music played to them in the womb for up to six months after they are born.
Some mothers were told to play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” five times a week during their third trimester. After the children were born, researchers studied their brain activity while the song was played. Then they played a version in which some of the notes had been changed.
Researchers discovered that the children who heard “Twinkle, Twinkle” in the womb responded better to the original, unedited song than children who hadn’t heard it before.
This, researchers say, suggests that children’s auditory system and other brain functions are in a critical period of development from 27 weeks of gestation to six months of age.
"Even though we've previously shown that fetuses could learn minor details of speech, we did not know how long they could retain the information,” lead researcher Eino Partanen said in a statement. “These results show that babies are capable of learning at a very young age, and that the effects of the learning remain apparent in the brain for a long time."
Early Childhood Music Lessons Help Older Brains
A new study published in The Journal of Neuroscience demonstrates the lasting benefit of taking music lessons as a child, even if you haven't picked up an instrument in decades.
Researchers at Northwestern University studied the brains of 44 adults ages 55 to 76 to see how fast their brains could process sounds. They discovered that those who'd had four to 14 years of music training early in life were a millisecond faster at responding to an audio cue than adults without any musical training.
While a millisecond doesn’t sound like much, researchers say it highlights how early investment in the brain continues to pay dividends later in life.
“The fact that musical training in childhood affected the timing of the response to speech in older adults in our study is especially telling because neural timing is the first to go in the aging adult,” lead researcher Nina Kraus said in a statement.