Don Campbell died this week. He is probably best known as the author of the best-selling book "The Mozart Effect," and as a tireless champion of the power of music to improve quality of life.
The so-called "Mozart Effect" is based on a famous scientific paper published in Nature in 1993. The paper purported to show that listening to Mozart for 10 minutes could increase IQ scores. Campbell was not the author of that study – Rauscher, Shaw and Ky were – but he wrote about the finding enthusiastically and passionately.
The Mozart Effect is probably the finding in our field that is most well known to the public – the popular conception being that "Mozart makes you smarter." I'm certain that everyone working in our field has an opinion on this. My own view is that the original finding left we researchers in a bit of a pickle: many of us believe that music does have ancillary benefits and enhances cognitive performance, however the Rauscher study was not rigorously controlled, and did not show what it purported to. Here was a case of the public believing in something that is likely true, but believing it for the wrong reasons. At the height of interest in the finding, Governor Zell Miller of Georgia sent a CD of classical music to every newborn child in the state, based largely on the persuasiveness of Campbell's book (Sack, 1998).
Many studies conducted after the original Rauscher report failed to replicate it, and indeed, found that the effect goes away when subjects in the control condition are given something – almost anything – to do. In the Rauscher report, the control condition was to do nothing, and so the Mozart Effect (by many accounts) was not showing an enhancement of IQ for the music group, but rather, a temporary lowering of IQ for the control group, putatively caused by boredom or a lack of arousal. (See, for example, Abbot, 2007; Roth & Smith, 2008; Steele, Bass & Crook, 1999; and Thompson, Schellenberg & Husain, 2001).
But the importance of Campbell's book and various follow ups put music cognition research on the map at a time when the field was hardly known. His 1983 book, Introduction to the Musical Brain, was the first popular book on the topic, predating Robert Jourdain's Music, The Brain and Ecstasy by 5 years.
Campbell was trained as a musician, studying organ at the University of North Texas and Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music. He also studied in France with Nadia Boulanger. He taught himself physiology and cognitive neuroscience in order to follow his interest in the emerging field of music and the brain.
I met him for the first time last year on a trip through Colorado. I confess that I had been critical of his writings, and so I was surprised and pleased (and somewhat relieved) that he harbored no grudge. He was very gracious, and I was moved by his humility and intellectual honesty. He had come to realize, he said, that many of the claims he made about the Mozart Effect were lacking in evidence, and that his early enthusiasm had led him to accept some of the science without questioning it. He seemed contrite, and regretted any role he played in overselling the story. Yet we both agreed that aspects of the story have turned out to be true – that musical activities can have benefits outside music, otherwise known as cognitive transfer – just not for the reasons that were originally claimed. It takes courage to face up to past mistakes, and I continue to admire him for that, as well as for kindling the public's interest in our field.
Rauscher F. H., Shaw, G. L., and Ky, C. N. (1993). Music and spatial task performance. Nature, 365, 611
Roth, E. A. and Smith, K. H. (2008). The Mozart effect: Evidence for the arousal hypothesis. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 107, 396-402.
Sack, Kevin (1998, January 15). Georgia's Governor Seeks Musical Start for Babies. The New York Times, p. A12.
Steele, K.M., Bass, K. E. and Crook, M.D.. (1999). The mystery of the Mozart effect: Failure to replicate. Psychological Science, 10, 366-369.
Thompson, W.F., Schellenberg, E.G. & Husain, G. (2001). Mood, arousal, and the Mozart effect. Psychological Science, 12(3), 248-251.