'Mozart Effect' Author Don Campbell Dies at 65

Friday, June 08, 2012 - 12:00 PM

Don Campbell, the author and entrepreneur whose best-selling books The Mozart Effect and The Mozart Effect for Children provocatively argued for music's power to build mental health, died June 2 of pancreatic cancer. He was 65 and lived in Boulder, CO.

Campbell began his career as a music critic and went on to write 23 books, mostly about music and its health benefits. He also founded the Institute of Music, Health and Education in Boulder in 1998, and lectured widely.

But it was his book The Mozart Effect, published in 1997, that elicited the most attention and controversy.

In the years following the book's release, Campbell built a robust online business selling CDs like "Music for the Mozart Effect," designed to enhance children's creativity and school performance. On his web site, he argued that parents of children with dyslexia, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder should buy his CDs to improve their children's neuropsychiatric conditions. "Music for the Mozart Effect" was a fixture on the Billboard classical chart for more than three years.

Campbell's theories grew out of a 1991 study that claimed that listening to Mozart for ten minutes a day can improve your performance on spatial-reasoning tasks given immediately after the listening session. It stuck a popular chord. U.S. congressmen passed resolutions and the governor of Georgia appropriated funds to buy a Mozart CD for every newborn baby Georgian. Commentators hailed Mozart music as a magic bullet to boost children's intelligence.

The actual study contained many scientific flaws, and it was hard to replicate, as a variety of researchers later determined. In 2010 a University of Vienna team conducted a meta-analysis of the "Mozart effect" in the journal Intelligence, looking at the entirety of the scientific record on the topic. "Based on the accumulated evidence, there remains no support for gains in spatial ability specifically due to listening to Mozart music," they wrote.

Still, some researchers believe that while the specific claims tied to The Mozart Effect were flawed, it helped to bring wider attention to music's cognitive benefits. As the neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin noted in his book, This is Your Brain on Music, "The Mozart Effect referred to immediate benefits, but other research has revealed long-term effects of musical activity." Other scientists have shown music's ability to promote positive moods, lower blood pressure and treat speech disorders.

The American Music Research Center at the University of Colorado Boulder is creating a collection to house Campbell's materials, including 200 private letters from French composer, conductor and teacher Nadia Boulanger.

The Daily Camera of Boulder, CO has a full obituary.

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Comments [2]

Daniel Levitin from Montreal

Here is an excerpt from my blog post about Don, appearing originally at http://musiccognition.info/blog

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.

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.

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.

Jun. 09 2012 11:22 AM
George Jochnowitz from New York, NY

When I was 15 I bought the records of LE NOZZE DI FIGARO (Figaro's Nose). I listened every day for a year. At the end of a year, I could speak Italian. My Italian is still beautiful, thanks to Mozart.
Now I am 74 1/2. I still listen to Mozart. It no longer helps. I am suffering from stupidity.

Jun. 08 2012 01:51 PM

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