Music’s Effect on Spatial Reasoning

July 27, 2009

Part I: In the beginning
Music is a part of every culture, and yet it is often taken for granted as it is so ingrained in daily life. Music is one of the broadest elements in our world. New genres seem to sprout every day. It is always developing and evolving, ebbing and flowing. There is little doubt as to why it is listed as one of the seven intellectual fields enumerated by Howard Gardner. Scientist and researchers give a thorough explanation of music’s link to cognition and spatial reasoning. These works can give anyone a basic working knowledge of how music effects spatial reasoning, and how it may be used for self improvement. Exploring music’s effects on spatial reasoning may help unlock a valuable tool for health and healing.

Professor of Education at Harvard University, Howard Gardner listed music and spatial reasoning as two of seven types of intelligence in the 1980s. Spatial reasoning is called various things including spacial intellect and spatial-temporal reasoning, among others. Though differing phrases may attempt to evoke a particular tone, spatial reasoning is at the core of each understanding. Spatial reasoning is involved in manipulating 2-D images into 3-D images with your mind’s eye. This may involve physical navigation, mental imagery, hand eye coordination, and spatial relationships. This skill is used by all. However, it is particularly important to engineers, architects, and computer game programmers. From playing video games to planning out how to arrange furniture in an empty room (topography), spatial reasoning is the core component. The degree of an individual’s spatial reasoning capacity can be tested for via an IQ test, as it is a component of intelligence. On IQ tests, spatial reasoning is often tested by the individual attempting to recreate a particular sequence of colored blocks. Some IQ test utilized by the following studies include the Stadford-Binet Intelligence Scale, the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-III ( WISC-III), the Wechsler Adult Intelligences Scale-III (WAIS-III), and the Cattell’s Culture Free Intelligence Test, Scale 3 (CFT). I have reviewed six articles that explore the relationship between music and spatial reasoning.

What’s the phenomenon?
It has been found that music, to varying degrees, positively or negatively prime the cells in the brain to perform spatial reasoning tasks (Jausavec and Habe, 2005). An experiment conducted by Rauscher, Shaw and Ky with undergraduate students in the mid 1990s showed that their IQ scores (Stanford-Binet) rose by 8 to 9 points after listening to music composed by Mozart. It was also found that this effect lasted only temporarily, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. This phenomenon was dubbed “The Mozart Effect” (Rauscher et al., 1995). Sutton and Lowis (2008) note that “Rauscher, Shaw, and Ky reported a short-term enhancement in spatial-temporal reasoning following listening to Mozart music”. Rauscher conducted an additional experiment in 1998 where he found that certain music increases test subjects’ performance, concentration, focus, and spatial reasoning tasks. These results were elicited through a testing format. Rauscher concentrated on the effects of classical music. Don Campbell, author of “The Mozart Effect” credits the music of Mozart and his contemporaries with the ability to “stimulate learning and memory” and “strengthen concentration abilities”. Sutton and Lowis found that the phenomenon works without the listener focusing on the music. The emotions elicited by the music act on a subconscious level. The music was not a focal point but rather background music predominately relegated to the preconscious. Furthermore, none of the participants expressed a conscious awareness of the music during their debriefing sessions with the researchers.

Further research (Schellenberg, 2005) has found that music improves social skills, mood, and other cognitive functions in addition to spatial reasoning. This phenomenon is significant and unique because though music is the method, the benefits and improvements extend to non-music related abilities, the results are consistent, and they are most likely to occur by listening or playing music than by other activities. Schellenberg broadened the research substantiated by Rauscher (1993) by noting spatial reasoning and other cognitive ability links to music other than classical. He found that music that is familiar, or enjoyable to the individual often has even greater potential to strengthen these cognitive tasks, with spatial reasoning being at the forefront. To broaden the term, Schellenberg renamed this phenomenon the “arousal-and-mood hypothesis”, thus indicating the link between the benefits and the emotional state of the individual. Schellenberg also noted that the emotional state of the individual primes cognitive functions to enhance in ability. Thus, listening to music has the capacity to effect the brain, emotions, and mind set.

References available in Part VI


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