In Research

They have called it the Mozart effect, because in tests it is this music by the Salzburg musician that is used most. What is it exactly?

The Mozart effect is the benefit that listening to music with special characteristics – such as that of the Austrian composer – can have on several brain events and, especially on epileptic seizures.

Up to now the Mozart effect had never been taken too seriously (rather, it was looked upon with scepticism by many doctors), because it was often thought that it was just a kind of placebo, and because the studies carried out had almost always involved small numbers of people, and had been conducted with very different protocols that weren’t always particularly strict. However, now this all seems destined to change, and listening to music with specific tones and frequencies could start to become part of integrated protocols for managing epilepsy.

Credit for this is a given to a meta-analysis, i.e. a systematic reassessment, using accurate methods – of numerous studies on this subject, conducted by a team coordinated by Federico Sicca and Gianluca Sesso from the University of Pisa.

The results were presented at the congress of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology and published in the scientific journal Clinical Neurophysiology.

The researchers examined 147 studies, all on the effects of Mozart’s music, published over the years. This material was subjected to different kinds of evaluations (based on internationally-recognized guidelines, called PRISMA, namely “Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses”), to check if the effects achieved were measurable, reproducible and ultimately reliable.

The final result leaves little doubt: the Italian researchers found that listening to Mozart’s music, especially on a daily basis, leads to a significant reduction in epileptic seizures and also to a reduced frequency of abnormal brain activities in epileptic patients (called interictal epileptiform discharges, which are commonly seen in epileptic patients).

The effects vary, of course, from person to person and depend on the music chosen, but the researchers from the University of Pisa claim that if Mozart’s music is listened to daily and for a prolonged period of time, it can reduce the intensity and frequency of epileptic seizures by 31 to 66%.

Why does this happen? “The mechanisms of the Mozart Effect are poorly understood”, explained Gianluca Sesso, “Obviously other music may have similar effects, but it may be that Mozart’s sonatas have distinctive rhythmic structures which are particularly suited to working on epilepsy. This may involve several brain systems, but this would need to be proven”.

When the details of this effect are better understood, music can start to be part of multi-disciplinary therapies that could benefit many patients: it is estimated that one in a hundred people suffer, on average, from some form of epilepsy worldwide, but approximately one in three patients does not respond to drug treatments. It is for these patients in particular that finding alternative solutions that are at least partially effective could be life-changing.

In the studies taken into consideration by the Researchers from Pisa, the music of Mozart most widely-used was the K448 Sonata for two pianos and the K545, also for piano.

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