Mozart Effect Schmozart Effect

I would like to dedicate this to my dear friends who whine about my musical tastes.

Dear friend-who-hates-on-my-pop-music,

I’ve often assumed that you are a little smarter than I.  All those times I’ve turned on one of our Jesuit cars and NPR was on and immediately changed it to Q102 hoping for Katty Perry, I felt slightly guilty.  Despite my claims to the contrary, I actually did wish that I could share your love of Philip Glass and/or Beethoven.  And part of that guilt was because I assumed that all that classical music cultivated your brain in a way that NSYNC just couldn’t.  But I have something to tell you: I was wrong.  Science (yes, science!!) has vindicated my love of pop.  

Eat it.

Sincerely,
Eric Sundrup, SJ

The Boy Mozart

The Boy Mozart just before he was discovered on YouTube and signed by Usher.

Man, did it feel good to write that note.  “But Eric is it true?!!” I hear you asking from out there in dark depths of the interwebs.  Actually, yes.

Back in 1993 psychologist Francis Rauscher published a study showing that college students who listened to Mozart had increased scores on a spatial learning test.  The story exploded from there.  It turns out most journalists aren’t well versed in the slow and steady progress of scientific peer reviews.  In their rush rush to grab headlines they, ahem, may have “exaggerated” Raucscher’s more modest claims.1

What was actually going on, as has been demonstrated in subsequent studies, is that the listener’s cognition was improving as a result of increased dopamine levels, increased levels that came – wait for it – from listening to music they enjoyed.

Yes, ladies and gents, any music that you happen to like tends to produce the famed Mozart effect.  Which in turns leads me to a counter hypothesis: since there isn’t just a Mozart effect, and I find Justin Bieber’s Baby just as catchy as Eine kleine Nachtmusik, I propose that we call these dopamine-increased cognition levels the Bieber Effect.

And as the Bieber Effect proves, we think more clearly, and have a better shot at making good decisions not when we’re listening to the classics, but when we’re feeling good.  16th century pop icon Ignatius of Loyola once noted something very similar.  We shouldn’t make life-changing decisions, he said, while we’re in desolation. He was concerned that we might be acting for the wrong reasons and making poor decisions when we choose in desolation rather than consolation. Instead, Ignatius thought that we should be proactive about getting back into a state of consolation before deciding.

If he was my spiritual director today maybe today he’d just tell me to listen to some Carly Rae before making life changing decisions.

The TJP staff (some of whom are on the receiving end of the letter I wrote above) is meeting next month to pray and talk about the future of TJP… I’m definitely putting Some Nights by Fun. on the conference playlist.

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  1. Our good friends in the news media forgot that “Headlines don’t sell papes… Newsies sell papes.”

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