Music and Nonmusical Abilities


Address for correspondence: E. Glenn Schellenberg, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, University of Toronto at Mississauga, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada L5L 1C6. Voice: 905-828-5367; fax: 905-569-4326;


Abstract: Reports that exposure to music causes benefits in nonmusical domains have received widespread attention in the mainstream media. Such reports have also influenced public policy. The so-called “Mozart effect” actually refers to two relatively distinct phenomena. One concerns short-term increases in spatial abilities that are said to occur from listening to music composed by Mozart. The other refers to the possibility that formal training in music yields nonmusical benefits. A review of the relevant findings indicates that the short-term effect is small and unreliable. Moreover, when it is evident, it can be explained by between-condition differences in the listener's mood or levels of cognitive arousal. By contrast, the effect of music lessons on nonmusical aspects of cognitive development is still an open question. Several studies have reported positive associations between formal music lessons and abilities in nonmusical (e.g., linguistic, mathematical, and spatial) domains. Nonetheless, compelling evidence for a causal link remains elusive.