Exploring the “Mozart Effect” and Reaction Time


Minh-Thy Le


CU- Boulder, Fall 2006


         Listening to music often affects one’s mood and behavior. It has the ability to make us anxious, calm, euphoric, as well as desolate. From helping one relax during meditation to propelling athletes during vigorous exercises, music has a profound affect on human physiology. Early researchers conducted experiments that proposed the idea that listening to Mozart compositions increases one’s memory capacity, motor control, and speech, known as the “Mozart Effect”. (Leng & Shaw, 1991) Such experiments have not been successful; they did however give modern researchers ideas. The neurons activated by listening to music share similar pathways of those that control our spatial reasoning. (Nantais & Schellenberg, 1999) Newer experiments tested children’s performance on temporal spatial reasoning. They saw an increase in test scores in those who listened to the piece opposed to those who didn’t. However, results lasted only about 10-15 minutes after they were exposed to the music. (Rauscher 1993) Since classical music has been proven to increase brain activity temporarily, it should have an affect on reaction time. My question was whether or not the genre of music affected one’s reaction time.  I hypothesized that since classical music has had positive effects on mental activity, it will improve one’s reaction time.

         My independent variables in the experiment included two genres of music, rock and classical. The dependent variable was the reaction time of the subject. No music, the experimental control, was used during one part of the experiment to determine if music had an affect at all. The volume, songs, and hand position of the subject were fixed during the entire experiment.

         Reaction timers were used in this experiment to measure the reaction time of the subjects. Eight subjects were asked to push the corresponding buttons to which the lights were illuminated. The reaction time was recorded ten times then averaged during the subject’s exposure to classical, rock, and finally no music. Since classical music is thought to improve neural activity, I predicted that the reaction time would be quicker when subjects listened to the classical music.

         After obtaining all the data, I ran an ANOVA test to see if there were any statistically significant differences in the numbers obtained. The P-value was .30 (P>.05), so there wasn’t a significant difference between the genres of music, or between the control and the treatments. Therefore, the reaction time was not dependent on the genre of music played.

         The results were inconsistent with my prediction based on my hypothesis. Instead of speeding up reaction time, classical music slightly hindered it. The results showed that there wasn’t a significant change in reaction time with the different genres. Some discrepancies include distractions in the classroom where the experiment was held. Instead of one factor (genre of music) affecting reaction time, distractions such as background noise and activity could have delayed the subject’s reaction. Also the lights were not illuminated in a certain order, so that may have caused variations in reaction time. One factor that must also be taken into account is that people react differently according to their individual preference of music. For example if one person disliked rock music, they would most likely have a slower reaction rate due to annoyance. My results did compare to previous experiments such as Blansit, Arnoldy et al. 2005 (on the CABLE website), where there wasn’t a significant difference in the reaction time with and without music.

         Though it was not statistically significant, rock did improve the reaction time of the subjects. Perhaps if the subjects were isolated from all distractions during the experiment, there would be a significant difference in their reaction times.


Leng, X. & Shaw, G. L. (1991). Toward a neural theory of higher brain function using music as a window. Concepts in Neuroscience, 2 (2), 229-258.


Nantais, Kristin M. and E. Glenn Schellenberg. 1999. “The Mozart effect: an artifact of

preference.” Psychological Science 10 : 4 (July 1999), 370.