There’s no evidence that simply listening to music improves the learning outcomes of children – but some promise that learning to play a musical instrument can have an influence.
"Music training – i.e. learning to play a musical instrument – is the only art form that has the best evidence of positive effects on the cognitive and non-cognitive skills of young people across all age ranges."
In 2015, at Durham University, we conducted a systematic review of international studies looking at 200 pieces of empirical research on the impact of arts activities on young people’s cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes. We looked at a broad range of subjects including the traditional fine arts – such as visual arts, music, dance, performing arts and theatre – as well as modern dance and movement, hip hop, poetry and creative writing.
Music training – i.e. learning to play a musical instrument – is the only art form that has the best evidence of positive effects on the cognitive and non-cognitive skills of young people across all age ranges (from pre-school to age 16). Of the 72 studies on music, 52 reported positive effects. Of these, eight were considered as having fairly good evidence, in the sense that they involved large samples (over 100), with comparison groups and comparing outcomes before and after exposure to music.
Positive effects of music training (playing an instrument) were reported for a range of outcomes: creativity, spatial-temporal ability, IQ scores, reading and language.
One experiment was conducted on 10 sets of twins aged 3–7, which showed that the twin who received private piano instruction improved in IQ and arithmetic scores, while the other twin who received no training showed no improvement. But this was a very small study, so the findings must be treated with caution.
"Many people think it’s an established fact that classical music can boost intelligence – the ‘Mozart effect’ idea that if an expectant mum plays Mozart to their unborn child, then they’ll improve its IQ."
A problem we find is that many of these studies tend to be on a small scale. If you compare two classes, for instance, you’re not really able to tell if the results are affected by the classes being taught differently. Others have methodological flaws, such as not having a comparison group.
An important consideration is that children who opt for music as an exam subject tend to do better academically, but they may be high performing children anyway, and music-focused schools as a whole tend to do better academically. In the US, for instance, those schools tend to have better qualified teachers in the first place, so you’re not comparing like for like.
Many people think it’s an established fact that classical music can boost intelligence – the ‘Mozart effect’ idea that if an expectant mum plays Mozart to their unborn child, then they’ll improve its IQ.
In reality, it’s more likely that children exposed to classical music may be from a culturally richer background to begin with, or from more educated families, and so the children tend to do well. But people will conflate the socio-economic background of the parents with the effects of the music.
There is no credible evidence of the Mozart effect. Brain scans have shown changes in the brains of young people who have been exposed to classical music, but such changes do not necessarily translate to improvements in academic attainment.
So, in summary, there are a large number of positive studies to suggest there are promising beneficial effects of music training on learning outcomes, but no evidence that listening to classical music improves IQ or other cognitive skills. If improving academic attainment is the reason for taking up music, then it is not the way forward. Promising approaches already exist to improve children’s learning outcomes and behaviour. Music should therefore be enjoyed for its own sake – and not as a means to improving something else. If it does, then it’s a bonus.
The story goes - and it’s important to state that this is just one hypothesis - that if you are good at learning new tasks, then as the brain degenerates, or if your brain degenerates from a disease such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, as the brain tissue functions less well you’re better at routing around that because you’ve been practising doing things in new ways before the deterioration set in.
So what the neuroprotective effect story says is that the progression of the dementia or the degeneration is not effected by you playing these games, but you can work around it better.
"We need to say that there’s no consensus at the moment among neuroscientists that that effect is there"
Now that’s one hypothesis and one story, and there are peer review papers that say that. It’s also fair to say that there are other papers that have failed to find that effect. So we need to say that there’s no consensus at the moment among neuroscientists that that effect is there. It’s a logically plausible story but the evidence isn’t clear.
What is clear is that keeping active and avoiding social isolation and stagnation is better for your health. There’s no doubt about that. If there is a link involving sudoko, what’s important to say is that you don’t keep doing the same thing for years and years and years.
If there is an effect it would seem to be related to taking on new mental challenges and becoming good at new tasks, rather than doing the same exercises again and again.
Looking at the extreme changes that the music industry has been experiencing for the last decade, especially from the ‘selling music’ angle, the answer to the above question is still unclear for some. However, personally, sale of music will never become totally redundant. I believe that people will always be willing to buy their favourite albums, whether it is vinyl or digital version.
However, the biggest part of the answer lies in the management and how the music will be presented to the public in the future. It will always be there for us to listen, whether it is soundtracks in the movies, or road trip playlist. Musicians and bands will always be selling their songs and melodies. The question is: are we going to pay for it and if not, who will? The music industry is structured in such a way that someone would have to pay for music, and businessmen would find all the ways to make it happen.
Remember that album you were obsessed with in summer 2015? We all know you would want to listen to it again. And you will. You are willing to pay to listen to it.
For example, Spotify is perfect for users. We have a choice to pay for a subscription, and 42% of application’s users chose to do so. However, with the recent news, Spotify does not look so good for Spotify itself either. More and more artists are refusing to sign contracts with the biggest music application to date. It might be that the platform would not operate in the near future at all. However, the demand would still be there. Remember that album you were obsessed with in summer 2015? We all know you would want to listen to it again. And you will. You are willing to pay to listen to it.
Nevertheless, it does not stop here. If you are one of the 58% of Spotify users and think you are listening to music for free. You are wrong. Whether it is radio, cinema or even café – it is not obvious, but we are all paying for the music we hear! So if I ask you now, do you think that the sale of music will become redundant in 100 years, is the answer still yes?
Read more from Good4Ears here.
Of course – distortion is involved in any change of time, place or language between a literature’s writers and its readers.
But a few things are specific to Anglophone readers of Russian literature. Translations vary in how modern, literal, or exoticising they are, but can never reproduce the absence of articles (especially important in titles; Lermontov’s Hero of our Time refuses to specify A or The), stress on discrete versus continuous verb forms, relative simplicity of tenses, and gender of objects. It is hard to reproduce the formal versus informal ‘you’, or the strength of Russian taboo words. English-speakers find the Christian name-patronymic system confusing, and don’t pick up on the fact, for example, that Anna Karenina is a non-Russian name form that emphasises Anna’s connection with a distrusted Europe and a betrayed husband. The single adjective ‘Russian’ doesn’t distinguish between the ethnically-Russian ‘Russkii’, and ‘Rossiskii’ (of the Russian territories but not necessarily of Russian ethnicity, thus including for example the Volga Tatars).
Literature in Anglophone countries doesn’t have the political influence and moral authority that it still today has in Russia.
Whitman doesn’t unify the Americans as Pushkin unites the Russians, who must learn his poetry by heart. Australian news commentators don’t make references to Patrick White’s characters, as Russian ones do to Dostoevsky’s. English-speakers may read classic Russian literature in relation to eternal truths, but not – or not very accurately - to contemporary politics. It is hard to know what is being satirised on each page of The Master and Margarita if one doesn’t live in 1930s Moscow, and little-known that the literary theorist Bakhtin had Stalin in mind when he praised heteroglossia over monologia.
The Anglophone Russian canon differs from Russians’ own: English-speakers hardly know Lermontov, Ostrovsky, Turgenev as a playwright, Chekhov as a story-writer, Simonov, or post-Soviet authors other than Pelevin. Because prose translates easier than poetry, they focus on prose, and think of Pasternak not, as Russians do, as a poet, but as a novelist.
Ever since the end of the Napoloeanic Wars, with the significant exceptions of two World Wars, Britain and Russia have been politically hostile. This has made the British, in particular, over-eager to perceive dissent, and reluctant to perceive conservatism, in Russian writers whom they admire. They interpret Anna Karenina as a romance, not also (as it was attacked by liberal Russians of its own time) as an expression of conservatism and chauvanism. Their film adaptations of War and Peace cut down on the philosophical-patriotic narrator more than Russian ones do. They read Dostoevsky as an underground man interested in psychology, not as a supporter of Tsarist autocracy above all interested in Orthodoxy. The British stages present Chekhov as a liberal, and overlook his misogyny, early conservatism, and late radicalism. Bulgakov is read as more purely anti-Communist than he was; similarly Doctor Zhivago, of which the CIA-backed Nobel award marked the beginning of the politicisation of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Britain and Russia have striking similarities: former empires at opposite ends of Europe, half in and half out of it, with a reserved and (by West European standards) unequal people.
Nonetheless, the British understand Russia less than both Europeans such as the Germans - who have far greater geographic, ethnic and cultural proximity to it than they do – and the Americans, who have far more in common with it as young, still-rival peoples occupying a continent, with ethnically-diverse native populations, and high rates of immigration. The British were late to start translating and reading Russian literature, and to establish chairs of it at their universities. Little wonder that, for all of the British love of certain parts of Russian literature – and I write this as a Briton – we are not its most intuitive interpreters.
It can be challenging to stick to New Year’s Resolutions so distilling them down into goals is a more achievable approach – especially if you write them down. Research has found you’re 42% more likely to stick to a goal if you commit it to paper. Writing out your intentions is a really good way of grounding the process and getting very clear on what you are aiming to achieve.
"Research has found you’re 42% more likely to stick to a goal if you commit it to paper."
Keep it simple and succinct and be realistic. You may feel like everything needs an overhaul – the habits, the gut, the job, the love and social life – but it’s better to make one change at a time rather than overwhelming yourself with plans that you can’t stick to. As you integrate the more positive behaviours into your life, you will feel encouraged and can set further goals as you progress.
A major weapon in the battle to kick or start a habit is identifying another person that you can be accountable to. Choose someone supportive and kind who will cheer you on rather than criticise you. You might want to pair up with someone who is trying to reach the same goal, whether that be starting swimming weekly or quitting smoking. In that case, pick someone reliable. Or at least ensure that you will continue regardless of your buddy’s levels of commitment.
Identifying what might take you off track before you get there will also strengthen your resolve. Ask: what are the situations or triggers that could potentially knock me off course? Where do you foresee yourself getting tempted to either avoid new healthy behaviours or return to self-destructive ones, for example, if you are quitting refined sugar, when do you most feel tempted to hit the biscuit tin, and what can you do instead?
"Keeping a diary is a simple way of recording your progress enabling you to see how far you’ve come already, keeping you on track and motivated."
If you’re trying to quit smoking and are aware that smoking tends to accompany alcohol, avoid booze too for a while. You can then reintroduce when on more solid ground. If you tend to gorge on snacks when you’re watching TV, switch it up, listen to music or ring a friend. If you do find yourself straying off track don’t beat yourself up about it. Instead resume the good habits as soon as possible.
One way to stop yourself straying is acknowledging how far you’ve come. Keeping a diary is a simple way of recording your progress enabling you to see how far you’ve come already, keeping you on track and motivated. Rewards are important - consciously identify how you will reward yourself for reaching a particular marker – new clothes, a massage, more vinyl - choose a treat that will acknowledge your dedication.
This is a funny one, and there are a number of reasons as to why they might do that. Some people think it’s because keyboards are quite warm, and as cats can be a heat-seeking species, they enjoy sitting on a warm surface.
It’s also a way for cats to solicit attention and get a bit of time with their owners. By stopping the owner from working, the cat gets something nice from their owner in return in the form of attention, time, fuss, strokes, etc.
A cat will always do what works, so once they’ve learnt that behaviour will result in something that they want, the behaviour is rewarded and reinforced – and so they’ll repeat the behaviour in the future.
Cats as a species tend to prefer low intensity high frequency physical contact, so a lot of cats like to be near their owners, but may not necessarily enjoy sitting in a person’s lap. Sitting on the keyboard close to their owner allows them to enjoy your company and enjoy being near you.
A keyboard or laptop is also very much the focus of attention for the owner while they’re using it. It could be that some cats may appreciate the importance of it to the owner, and so they want to focus on it as well – almost “it’s important to you so it’s important to me too”.
So they’re not just being a pain in the butt!
Sue is Feline Welfare Manager for Battersea Dogs & Cats Home.