The widely believed notion that Mozart’s music can reduce symptoms of epilepsy has been debunked by a new review and meta-analysis conducted by researchers Sandra Oberleiter and Jakob Pietschnig at the University of Vienna. Their findings, published in Scientific Reports, emphasised the role of unfounded authority, underpowered studies, and non-transparent reporting in perpetuating this myth.
Various claims have been made about the benefits of listening to Mozart’s music, with a specific focus on the idea that his sonata KV448 could alleviate epilepsy symptoms. This claim first emerged in the late 1990s and has since been supported by a few studies that claim to have replicated the original findings. However, the lack of data from several key studies supporting the alleged effect has raised concerns for Oberleiter and Pietschnig.
In their meta-analysis, the researchers aimed to systematically and formally assess the validity of these claims. They identified 26 relevant published journal articles, but a third of these had to be excluded due to the unavailability of original data sets or summary statistics. The lack of data transparency, despite the widespread recognition of its importance, further fueled their concerns.
After excluding another six studies for various reasons, the researchers were left with eight studies involving a total of 207 participants. These remaining studies had small sample sizes, which raised questions about their ability to detect any meaningful effects. Of these eight studies, only three were gold-standard randomized-controlled trials, all of which were insufficiently powered to detect a significant effect.
Oberleiter and Pietschnig’s meta-analysis found no evidence of a specific Mozart effect or any beneficial effect of listening to music in general for medically relevant conditions, including epilepsy. The researchers concluded that unfounded authority, underpowered studies, and non-transparent reporting are the primary drivers behind the persistent belief in the Mozart effect.
This comprehensive analysis serves as an important reminder to critically evaluate scientific claims and to demand data transparency and rigour in research.