If you are of a certain age, you may have heard about the so-called “Mozart Effect,” the idea that playing classical music (particularly any of the music composed by a short, spendthrift Austrian prankster with a fondness for scatalogical humor) is a sure-fire way to boost the intelligence of your unborn child.
This idea gained so much popular currency that in 1998, the then-governor of Georgia, Zell Miller, proposed spending $105,000 to provide classical music to all of the 100,000 or so infants born in Georgia each year. After the suggestion caught flak from conservative talk radio hosts (including noted cultural arbiter Rush Limbaugh), Miller dropped the idea of using public money. But Sony Music Entertainment offered to create and donate a CD for distribution to Georgia’s parents. The resulting disc, entitled “Build Your Baby’s Brain with Music,” is available on Amazon.com; no word on whether Georgia and Sony are still handing them out to the parents of newborns.
Researchers at Appalachian State University reported in the journal Psychological Science that they were unable to replicate the so-called “Mozart Effect” and the concept has generally been debunked (which has not prevented a small cottage industry of books and musics on the subject from springing up; just search “Mozart Effect” on Amazon.com).
While we may not be able to show that classical music has a salutatory effect on unborn children, there is no question that high volume sounds can have a deleterious impact on a fetus and its development. In October 1997, the Committee on Environmental Health for the American Academy of Pediatrics collected a series of studies and reports from the prior twenty-three years and reached a grim conclusion:
Noise may damage fetuses and newborns. Many pregnant women are exposed to noise in the workplace. This statement reviews the evidence collected since 1974 that fetuses and newborns exposed to excessive noise may suffer noise-induced hearing loss and other health effects.
Now, researchers are raising concerns that even the much lower-volume sounds produced by a mother’s cell phone can have a negative impact on the sleep patterns of unborn children. A small study by Dr. Boris Petrikovsky and Dr. Evgeny Zharov of pregnant medical residents, who frequently carry cell phones and beepers over thin scrubs for hours at a time, suggests that the sounds emitted by those devices are very startling to fetuses. There was some suggestion that the fetuses grew somewhat accustomed to the noises over time, but the researchers were still concerned about the disruptive effects of beeps, bells, and ringtones.
The researchers’ preliminary findings will be presented at a meeting of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists at The Center for Cosmetic & Reconstructive Gynecology this week. Their research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and some experts in the area noted that their study is based on a fairly small number of respondents.
Nonetheless, Petrikovsky and Zharov recommend that pregnant women keep their mobile devices as far from their developing child as possible. There is already growing concern over sleep deprivation among teens thanks to mobile devices (a topic I’ll be covering extensively here). Anything that can be done to help get our littlest digital natives off to a good start sounds like a positive step.