NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The sounds of Mozart might help slow premature infants' metabolism, potentially helping them to put on needed weight, a study published Monday suggests.
Most research into the so-called "Mozart effect" has focused on whether listening to the composer can boost a person's IQ. A 1993 study of 36 college students found that listening to a Mozart sonata appeared to temporarily boost performance on a test of spatial- temporal reasoning -- measured by participants' ability to make cuts in a folded paper while visualizing what the final results would be when the paper was unfolded.
But there is also evidence that music, more generally, may have benefits for premature infants -- including better weight gain and growth.
In the new study, Israeli researchers looked at the potential effects of Mozart on 20 premature infants' resting metabolism, based on the premise that lower metabolism might explain the increased weight gain studies have attributed to music.
They found that, on average, the infants' metabolism slowed by up to 13 percent within 10 to 30 minutes of listening to a "Baby Mozart" CD.
The findings support the theory that music might help preemies gain weight, according to the researchers, led by Dr. Ronit Lubetzky of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center. However, the team did not directly measure the infants' weights.
Also still unclear is whether the study has detected a "Mozart effect" or a potential benefit of music in general, the researchers note in their report, published in the journal Pediatrics.
They do, however, point to a previous study of adults with seizures that found that compositions by Mozart, more so than other classical composers, appeared to lower seizure frequency. It's possible, according to Lubetzky's team, that the proposed Mozart effect on the brain is related to the structure of his compositions.
Compared with other famous composers, they explain, Mozart's music tends to repeat the melodic line more frequently. Other researchers have speculated that this more-organized musical structure may have greater resonance for the brain.
If this is true, Lubetzky's team writes, it would be "fascinating" to study whether it is also the case for preterm infants' immature brains.
The findings are based on 20 premature but healthy infants who were one month old, on average. The researchers measured the babies' resting metabolism as the infants listened to 30 minutes of Mozart on two consecutive days; for comparison they also measured the infants' metabolism during 30 minutes of silence on another two consecutive days.
Metabolism was gauged indirectly, through measurements of the babies' oxygen use and carbon dioxide production. The researchers found that starting at the 10-minute mark of their Mozart sessions, the infants' metabolism started to slow -- ultimately dipping by 10 percent to 13 percent, on average.
The researchers acknowledge that the implications of their findings for now "belong to the field of speculation."
Further studies, they conclude, are "essential" to determining whether music therapy has a place in premature infants' early care.
SOURCE: Pediatrics, January 2010.