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Universiteit Leiden

Prenatal music as neurogenesis enhancer

Prenatal music as neurogenesis enhancer Headphones by Kev-Shine

The ability to respond and to enjoy music seems to be innate. Could music have an impact on the cognitive development and consequently on the cognitive functions in developing infants?

In the 4th Season of the TV series “Criminal Minds”, the pregnant FBI agent JJ  puts her headphones over her belly while playing Beethoven. Agent Reid comments this action by saying: “I personally preferred Mozart myself.”

This is one example of the popular opinion that prenatal musical stimulation boosts the child’s intelligence, in particular it is often associated with a specific composer: Mozart.
Is there empiric evidence supporting this “legend”? And why is Mozart, or classical music in general, linked to this idea? Evidence exists suggesting that the child not only can recognize the mother’s voice, but also that her voice plays a special role in the neurogenesis of the fetus’s brain. Could we say that this “special” sound is a kind of music?

Evidence suggests that effects of music on mothers can alleviate stress, anxiety and depression. A long term exposure to stress, releases cortisol that can cause negative effects like impairments in cognitive performance on the fetus. Cortisol is also realeased by loud noise, so maybe it is not a good idea for the soon-to-be mother to attend metal concerts every night. But what if she was exposed to Mozart every day?

Empirical researches indicated that listening Mozart’s Sonata for two Piano (K448) could temporarilly boost the spatial intelligence in a group of volunteers. This is known to be the “Mozart effect” that reiceved attention of the popular media and it created the popular thought “Mozart makes you smarter”. The “Mozart effect” was tested on children and volunteers but fetus is a completely different matter.

Fetus perceives sound starting from the fourth month in uterus. Here the sound frequency is attenuated and as a consequence, fetus has a different sound perception compared to “born” people. The auditory apparatus is intimately related to the nervous system and the normal growth of the brain also depends on the intact auditory system. Numerous studies have found that pre-natal exposure to music in rats increases neurogenesis, in particular, improvements are measured in the spatial memory.There are no studies observing the stimulation of pregnant human mothers with subsequent tests performed on infants: one criticisms is that humans have a different experience when they are listening music comparared to rats.

In the end, a mother should not listen to music expecting to increase the child’s intelligence, but listening for her own enjoyment could benefit her and consequenctly also the fetus. In my opinion, it is always better for a fetus to hear his “favorite song”. This song is known to be an important instrument for the first footsteps in his life and in his growth. This particular melody is probably the first sound that we have heard and, thanks to it, we are the people that we are.
This melody is the mother’s voice.

More information:

Spreng, M.  (2000) Possible health effects of noise induced cortisol increase. Noise Health, 2(7):59-64
Jenkins, J. S. (2001). The Mozart effect. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 24, 170-172.
Thompson BM, Andrews SR. (2000). An historical commentary on the physiological effects of music: Tomatis, Mozart and neuropsychology. Integr Physiol Behav Sci. , 35(3):174-88
Lai, R. (2001). Wagner for the Womb: Does pre-natal music stimulation affect the intelligence of a fetus? Wellesley.edu 

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