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Can music make my baby smarter?

The Mozart Effect's Coda

When initial reports about music's effects on learning and development surfaced, there was understandably a lot of excitement. If improved performance by a student on a college entrance exam might require only the playing of a tape, you can see why many high schoolers and their parents were quite interested. And if playing that same tape for an infant could begin prepping the child for that same test -- but with a 17-year head start -- then new parents certainly wouldn't want to deprive their newborn of that, especially for the cost of a few tapes or CDs.

But while the music of Mozart and others has proven beneficial in surprising ways (see sidebar), subsequent tests have tempered enthusiasm about a link between music and a developing child's intelligence.

A comprehensive review by researchers from the University of Vienna (located in the Austrian capital that once served as Mozart's stomping grounds) of all available studies on the matter found there is no link between listening to classical music and the brain's development of spatial ability [source: University of Vienna].

Interestingly, infants in one test appeared to recognize music that had frequently been played by the parents during pregnancy, though no cognitive benefit seemed to exist [source: Owens].

Another product on the market comes with the manufacturer's claim that prenatal exposure to sounds that are ever-so-slightly different than those of the mother's heartbeat will spur the fetus to develop auditory discrimination and, hence, improved learning ability [source: BabyPlus]. While thousands upon thousands of units (a small audio player affixed to a belt for the expectant mother's belly) have been sold, there's no scientific proof that their use provides any benefit [source: Rudavsky].

However, music can relax your baby to the point of fattening him or her up. Studies have shown that premature infants who are exposed to classical music in the neonatal intensive care unit gain more weight [source: Cromie]. This is because the music relaxes the baby, who then fidgets less even when the music is not being played.

Keep reading for lots more information on music and brain development in babies.