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True or False: Having babies listen to Mozart will make them smarter?

Posted on August 25, 2015

False.99 playing Mozart makes babies smarter

Being parents of three children, I can tell you that my wife and I have had many of the same concerns and worries that millions of parents have had regarding their children’s intelligence and academic abilities. Why isn’t my child talking yet? When will she start reading? How are my child’s writing and math skills compared to their playmates? Should we send our child to an expensive private pre-school program? Is there anything else we can do to help “speed things up” academically for our children and give them that competitive edge as they take that monumental and daunting leap into kindergarten? I also remember considering playing classical music to our children when they were young because we had heard that it improves intelligence, something referred to as the Mozart effect. We didn’t opt for the expensive pre-schools and we didn’t make our kids listen to Mozart, and academically speaking they are doing just fine. The hype surrounding the Mozart effect, which now has a whole industry surrounding it with dozens of products and tens of millions of dollars in sales, started after a study on college students done in the early 1990’s showed that they performed better on a spatial reasoning task, a test where they had to fold and cut paper, after they listened to Mozart for ten minutes. Interestingly, this initial study did not include children or tests of intelligence. Many studies have since disproved the Mozart effect. Pietschnig and colleagues (2010) published a meta-analysis of dozens of studies that have been done to date and concluded that “In summary, this study shows that there is little support for a Mozart effect considering the cumulative empirical evidence.” In other words, exposing your children to Mozart or other classical music when they are in the womb, two months old, or two years old, will likely not increase their intelligence.    


Pietschnig, J., Voracek, M., and Formann, A. Mozart effect – Shmozart effect: A meta-analysis. Intelligence (2010), Vol 38, pp. 314-323.

True or False: There has been a tremendous increase in autism rates recently?

Posted on August 25, 2015

False.100 There has been a recent explosion of autism

Thinking back to my childhood, I can’t remember ever hearing the word autism or having a friend who was autistic. Today, however, most of us, even our children, know someone who has been diagnosed with autism. Gernsbacher and colleagues (2005) in an article published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science state that autism was first described as a standalone disorder in the 1940’s, but it wasn’t until 1980 that criteria for autism was included in the American Psychiatric Associations’ Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The CDC describes Autism spectrum disorders (ASD’s) as a group of disorders that can result in social, communication, and behavioral challenges. The “spectrum” in ASD’s indicates the impact the disorder can have on an individual could be minor, or it could be very severe. The prevalence of autism appeared to dramatically increase in the early to mid 1990’s; however, it wasn’t clear if the increase was due to actual new cases of autism or increases in diagnosis and reporting. Some believe that Thimerosal, a mercury-containing compound in vaccines, is responsible for the increase in autism rates. However, there appears to be a lack of scientific evidence to connect the two. Additionally, in the article referenced above, Gernsbacher and colleagues discuss a variety of reasons they believe there has not been an epidemic of autism recently. The authors state that “no sound scientific evidence indicates that the increasing number of diagnosed cases of autism arise from anything other than purposely broadened diagnostic criteria, coupled with deliberately greater public awareness, and intentionally improved case finding.” So it appears that there truly has not been a dramatic increase in autism rates recently, simply changes in diagnostic criteria and public awareness.


Gernsbacher, M., Dawson, M., and Goldsmith, H. Three reasons not to believe in an autism epidemic. Current Directions in Psychological Science (2005), Vol 14, pp. 55-58.

True or False: Most people experience a mid-life crisis?

Posted on August 18, 2015

False.101 Most people have a mid life crisis

We often hear stories of individuals in their 40’s or 50’s who go through drastic life changes. Sometimes it’s a decision to get divorced, change jobs, move across the country, or maybe buy a sports car or even better a Harley Davidson. Often the explanation or blame for these behaviors falls to the individual having a mid-life crisis. Supposedly, many things can lead to someone’s having a mid-life crisis; some of the possibilities include unhappiness with a spouse, a lack of meaning or direction in one’s life, a feeling of unfulfilled goals or dreams, menopause, or simply a desire for fun, excitement, and adventure. I think it’s safe to say that many of the things that supposedly lead to a mid-life crisis regularly occur to people when they are in their 20’s or 30’s and even their 60’s or 70’s. I was unable to uncover any research that specifically described when a mid-life crisis usually started, how long it usually lasts, or the best way to get out of one should it occur. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Reynolds, et al. (2001) suggests that as we get older positive affect, things like joy and excitement, remain fairly stable whereas negative affect, things like anger, disgust, anguish, and shame, actually decreases. The authors also discuss how additional research findings don’t support the idea that middle age is a time when many people go into crisis mode. They cite some studies showing that differences in life satisfaction change little across the lifespan and also discuss how some research actually supports the idea of greater well-being in older adults. While some people may go through hard times during the mid-life years, this is often the time when people are getting promoted, earning a decent salary, happily raising children, and generally feeling pretty good about themselves.


Charles, S., Reynolds, C., and Gatz, M. Age-related differences and change in positive and negative affect over 23 years. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2001), Vol 80, pp. 136-151.

True or False: You spend less money when you use cash vs. credit cards?

Posted on August 17, 2015

True.93 you spend less with cash vs credit

According to the website, the average credit card debt in households that use credit cards is over $15,000, and there are over 500 million credit cards in circulation in the U.S. I knew that credit card debt was a problem for many people, but I didn’t realize just how big the problem was. If you own and use credit cards, you in all honesty can probably answer the question of whether you spend more money when using credit cards vs. using cash. My wife and I stopped using credit cards years ago. We never had a problem with carrying credit card debt, but we noticed that we spent roughly twenty to twenty-five percent more money when we made purchases with our credit cards vs. using cash. There have been a few research studies conducted on this topic, and most show that you indeed spend more money when you use credit cards, roughly eight to eighteen percent more. One early study was conducted by Elizabeth Hirschman (1979) and published in the Journal of Consumer Research. Dr. Hirschman hypothesized that consumers who only had bank- or store-issued cards would make larger total dollar purchases than those not possessing a card and that the average transaction with a card would be higher than transactions made with cash. The results of the study supported her hypotheses and showed that consumers did indeed spend more money and also made more purchases when using cards. One reason we might spend more money using credit cards is that it is much easier to make spontaneous purchases. Many years ago when my wife and I still had our credit cards, we were walking through a sporting goods store and happened past the firearms area. I’m still not sure how it happened, but in a matter of twenty minutes we purchased two firearms with the total bill being over a thousand dollars. We likely would not have made that purchase if we hadn’t had our credit cards in our wallets.


Hirschman, E. Differences in consumer purchase behavior by credit card payment system. Journal of Consumer Research (1979), Vol 6, pp. 58-66.