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|Written by Dante Kleinberg|
|Sunday, 02 March 2008 19:00|
In the fast-paced super-tech world of tomorrow, only the best and brightest among us will have the opportunity to secure well-paying jobs, live in above-ground housing, and mate with desirable partners. The rest, let’s call them "Morlocks," will be forced to scrub our bathroom stalls or slave away in our salt mines until a merciful death overtakes them. It’s only natural then for a parent to want to give their son or daughter an edge over the other children. Maybe you even vaguely remember someone on breakfast television saying babies who listened to music in the womb came out smarter than those who didn’t… but what music should you play? Is there any expensive gadgetry you should buy?
Don’t panic! Despite what the father might say, you’re not in this alone. There’s an entire industry built around teaching your miniature baby to appreciate classical music, even if you—like most of us—never will. From simple compilation CDs, to "fetal speakers", to entire "prenatal education systems", there’s no limit to the number of ways you can stimulate the fetal mind.
Perfect Praise’s "Give Them the Best Start" package even includes a Baby’s Destiny Prayer Journal with their CD of classical praise music, and for an extra $30 you can get a "precision-tuned" xylophone because "[i]t is important to include one in your baby’s prenatal journey." If you’ve studied the Bible thoroughly, you already know how essential xylophone music is to fetal development, and luckily you’re no longer limited to leaning your belly against the stereo during the bridge to "Gone Baby Gone."
The BébéSounds Prenatal Gift Set comes with everything one needs for two-way fetus communications. Besides the obligatory Mozart compilation CD, you also get fetal speakers with a microphone for talking directly to the baby ("Hey good lookin’, I’ll be giving birth to you later"), and a "special recording cable" so that you can tape your digestive system’s gurgling noises and pretend you can make out the baby’s heartbeat.
Disregarding the flotsam and jetsam of commercial products for a moment, is there actually any reason to believe playing music for a fetus affects it in a positive way? Instinctively, we’ve often assumed there’s some connection between activity taking place around the pregnant mother and how the baby turns out when it’s born and awakens to the world at large. This notion is referred to as "maternal impressions," and was especially popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. For example, if your baby was born blind, it was thought you must have looked at a blind person or been startled by one in a dark alley. John Merrick, the Elephant Man himself, believed that his mother having been knocked down by a circus elephant during pregnancy was what caused his deformities. Mart Toft convinced legions of people she gave birth to rabbits, with the purported cause being her habits of playing with rabbits in the garden, and having numerous dreams about them.
The single biggest influence on our attitudes towards prenatal education is likely the so-called "Mozart Effect." In 1993, a group of researchers published an article in Nature describing the impact of listening to Mozart immediately prior to taking an I.Q. test, resulting in the average score going up by 8 to 9 points. It wasn’t until 1997, however, that someone figured out how to commercialize these results. Don Campbell’s book, The Mozart Effect, explains how listening to classical music, particularly Mozart, does not only make you temporarily smarter, it can also reduce stress, alleviate depression, enhance your memory, reduce the effects of dyslexia and autism, and consolidate all your debt into one easy monthly payment.
The impact of Campbell’s book (and subsequent book, The Mozart Effect For Children, and various ancillary products, and so on) was tremendous. Georgia governor Zell Miller—yes, the same man who wished "we lived in the day where you could challenge a person to a duel"—even added to his 1998 state budget a provision to give every child born in Georgia a tape or CD of classical music.
Though it’s possible Zell acted a little impulsively, as later researchers Kenneth Steele and Christopher Chabris found the impact of Mozart on intelligence may have been overstated. Described as "enjoyment arousal," it seemed it wasn’t Mozart that test-takers responded to, so much as simply being happy and relaxed. Those who enjoyed Stephen King novels tested better upon hearing excerpts from them, and those who disliked classical music actually tested poorer when Mozart was played.
One thing all researchers can agree on is that the predominant sound in the fetal environment is the mother’s heartbeat. The BabyPlus Prenatal Education System ("Where Learning Begins®") works on this principle by providing a multi-stage system of heartbeat-type sounds, which vary in rhythm, frequency, and complexity, so as to provide a contrast to the true heartbeat. This is intended to teach the fetus to understand and differentiate between the sounds, with the occasional side effect of teaching the fetus that its mother has multiple—possibly dozens—of hearts. Not convinced? BabyPlus has links to dozens of articles on celebrities seen buying the system, including several about Nicole Richie. The message is clear: if it’s good enough for the star of The Simple Life Goes to Camp, then it’s good enough for the likes of you!
But why does learning have to wait for the prenatal stage? As we prepare for the consumer electronics shows of the future, we at (Cult)ure Magazine suggest learning will need to begin even earlier. In order for your child to compete on the global stage, we propose education should begin prior to conception with Testicular Speakers. Give your sperm the best start possible with regular doses of Chopin, Mozart, or Beethoven. Don’t think we forgot about the eggs. For the ladies, we envision the iPod Utero. Smaller and more "form-fitting" than the Nano, just load the iPod Utero with a gigabyte of Handel or Brahms, put it on shuffle, and wedge it up in there. You can actually feel your womb getting smarter.
After all this, you’d be excused for thinking that prenatal music was a bunch of silly noise, but don’t dismiss it too readily. In fact, the fetus can hear and recognize mid-frequency sounds in the mother’s environment that are at least as loud as—say, a vacuum cleaner. And independent studies have shown that newborn babies react noticeably to music played for them in the womb versus music they’ve never heard before. But whether or not that means you should spend $150 on a belt that generates extra heartbeats is up to you. And if you prefer Elvis Costello or Weezer or Gladys Knight & the Pips to Mozart and Bach, that’s up to you too.