Czech scientists: Mozart’s music more effective than Haydn’s in treating epilepsy

Listening to classical music, it is often said, has beneficial effects on both the mind and body. But does some music have more healing power than others? Scientists from Brno have tried to answer this question by testing the impact of Mozart and Haydn on epileptic patients. The results of their study have been published in the prestigious European Journal of Neurology.

In the 1990s, scientists came up with a ground-breaking theory that listening to the music of Mozart may temporarily boost scores on some parts of IQ tests. Known as the “Mozart effect”, the theory has become immensely popular, with many people having their babies listen to his music in order to boost their intelligence.

Scientists from the Brno-based CEITEC institute, together with doctors from Saint Anne’s University Hospital, decided to test the validity of the Mozart effect on 18 epileptic patients, having them listen to the first movement of his Sonata K. 448 for Two Pianos. Professor Ivan Rektor was in charge of the study:

“We have confirmed that Mozart’s Sonata reduced epileptic discharges that were measured directly in the brain. The study was carried out on patients with electrodes implanted in their brains who were due to undergo a neurosurgery. The electrodes were there to localize the place which was to be surgically removed.”

Ivan Rektor | Photo: Adéla Paulík Lichková,  Czech Radio

Thanks to the precise diagnostic method, the scientists could study the effect of Mozart’s music on the brain with greater accuracy than ever before.

They were also interested in whether this particular piece of music was more effective than other compositions. To draw a comparison, they selected the first movement of Haydn’s Symphony No. 94:

“We selected Haydn’s Symphony because it was composed in the same era and roughly the same style as Mozart’s. None of our patients had any musical training, so they didn’t really care whether they listened to Mozart or Haydn.

“We selected these two compositions because we wanted to test various acoustic parameters of the music, and we needed compositions that would be different in this respect.”

The experiment confirmed that the healing effect of music depends mainly on its acoustic properties, such as rhythm, tempo or harmonic spectrum – and that Mozart’s Sonata was more beneficial in this respect. It has also yielded a surprising discovery: the music had a different impact on women’s and men’s brains.

“This is something we hadn’t expected at all. We found out that while Mozart’s composition reduced epileptic activity in both women and men, listening to Hayden’s composition reduced epileptic discharges only in women. In men, the epileptic activity increased.”

To confirm their hypothesis, Prof. Rektor’s team carried out a follow-up study, using Magnetic Resonance Imaging. The MRIs showed that certain parts of the brain were indeed activated differently in men and women.

Scientists from the CEITEC institute plan to continue with their research. They hope that, in the future, music with well-defined acoustic properties could be used as an alternative, non-invasive method in treating epileptic patients.