Study of the Mozart Effect?

Another review for HealthNewsReview.org. Again, I was the first reviewer.  

Could Listening to Mozart Help Doctors Spot Colon Polyps? October 31, 2011

RATING:

Another story based on a talk at a recent conference AND based on a news release. Although the article acknowledges the study's limitations with the usual disclaimer (“conclusions should be viewed as preliminary"), the story still raises many red flags.

Our Review Summary

  • Small study?  How small?
  • Study based on two doctors' performance?  How were they selected?  How much experience did they have?  These are very important details not explained in the story.
  • The article fails to mention anything about the study's confounding factors, or to caution that "correlation does not imply causation" in such a small study. An independent expert could have commented on these issues. But the story provided no independent perspective.
  • This is a one-source story, with the same quotations from the lead investigator as the news release.

Why This Matters:

The story again highlights the difficulty in covering presentations from academic conferences, as such studies are not yet peer-reviewed and published in medical journals. Although the correlation between Mozart and detection rates is interesting, the article could have gone beyond the press release and looked at the study from a more critical angle, with a more thorough explanation of the so-called "Mozart Effect." Although the news release was a bit of a challenge to decipher, the story based on it did not clearly explain its meaning for the reader.

Criteria:

  1. Establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure? - NOT APPLICABLE There's no question about the ability of anyone to listen to any of kind of music while doing colonoscopies.
  2. Discuss costs?- NOT APPLICABLE
    There are no extensive costs associated with listening to Mozart's music.
  3. Avoid "disease-mongering"? - SATISFACTORY The story provided some brief information on invasive colorectal cancer, based on the information in the news release.
  4. Evaluate the quality of evidence?- NOT SATISFACTORY
    The article does state that "data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal." However, the story should have discussed the limitations of such a small study and clarified the researchers' methods and results. The story does not mention if other variables were accounted for, or if the correlation between Mozart and higher detection rates could have been due to other factors. The study only had two physicians in it and was not truly blinded.
  5. Quantify the potential harms? - NOT APPLICABLE No foreseeable harms or side effects in listening to music during procedures.
  6. Establish the true novelty of the treatment/test/product/procedure? - SATISFACTORY
    Many studies, both positive and negative, have been conducted on the so-called "Mozart Effect." And the story makes brief reference to past studies.
  7. Quantify the potential benefits? - NOT SATISFACTORY The absolute dfference in adenomas was not reported, only percentages.  We're told it was a small study.  How small?
  8. Appear to rely solely or largely on a news release? - NOT SATISFACTORY The story clearly was based on a press release by the American College of Gastroenterology. Similar language and the same quotations were used. There was not any evidence of original reporting.
  9. Use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest? - NOT SATISFACTORY There were no independent sources cited from outside the study. The only comment came from the lead researcher, Dr. Catherine Noelle O'Shea from the University of Texas Health Science Center.
  10. Compare the new approach with existing alternatives? - NOT SATISFACTORY Was music the only option for improving detection?  Experience of the physician is probably closely related to detection rate, as well as number of procedures done per year. Let's give Mozart his due, but let's analyze the evidence on other alternative explanations as well.

 

Total Score: 2 of 7 Satisfactory [HealthNewsReview.org]