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Celebrated physicist in music dies at age72

Gordan Shaw linked classical music to brain power

POSTED AT 12:00 AM ON May. 2, 2005 

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LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. -- Gordon Shaw, the physicist whose research on classical music's effect on the brain produced an often-quoted study that showed listening to Mozart raises a person's IQ, has died. He was 72.

Shaw died of kidney cancer Tuesday at his home, according to his family. He gained national attention in 1993 when he reported that a group of college students who listened to Mozart's "Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major" saw their IQs increase substantially, if only temporarily. The University of California at Irvine researcher never cared for the media attention his work generated, however, complaining that headlines like "Mozart's Music Makes You Smarter" oversimplified his studies.

"It is not that the Mozart will make you permanently smarter," Shaw told the Los Angeles Times in 1993. Hearing such music, he speculated, might only provide "a warmup exercise" for parts of the brain that perform high levels of abstract thinking.

Such reports on his work also led to a backlash in the academic community when other scientists reported they could not duplicate the results uncovered by Shaw. An expert on particle physics, Shaw began studying classical music's effect on higher-level thinking after a chance reading of a 1973 paper on brain theory. With graduate student Xiaodan Leng, he devised a computer model they used to match musical notes to brain patterns. The result was not Mozart but something that resembled Western classical music.

Shaw decided to test the results of classical music on the brain, initially studying 3-year-olds and then college students.

After three groups of college students were tested, one group was exposed to Mozart, another to a relaxation tape and the third to silence. When the students were tested again, the Mozart listeners saw their IQ levels rise as much as nine points. But the increases began to dissipate after 10 minutes.

For the rest of his career, Shaw continued to study the effect of classical music on the brain, though he distanced himself from the various commercial enterprises his research inspired. In 1998, he co-founded the nonprofit Music Intelligence Neural Development Institute, which is now offered in 67 elementary schools. He also published the book "Keeping Mozart in Mind."

 

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