Of Mice and Music

By LORRAINE EATON The Virginia-Pilot Wednesday, August 3, 1997

Rock ‘n’ roll really does rot your brain

Your mom was right. Rock ‘n’ roll really does rot your brain. That’s according to David Merrell, a 16-year-old Nansemond River High School student whose science experiment supports what parents have been saying for years: Hard rock taints the brain – well, at least the brains of mice. Using 72 male laboratory mice, a stopwatch, a 5- by 3-foot maze and the music of Mozart and Anthrax, David worked with an Old Dominion University statistician to establish that hard rock impedes learning. In the process, the rising junior captured top honors in regional and state science fairs and earned accolades from the Navy and the CIA.

Don’t let your kids listen to hard rock music

“Don’t let your kids listen to hard rock music,” he said. “I think it has a major negative effect.” To prove his point, David assembled three separate groups of 24 mice: a control group, a hard rock group, and a classical group. To ensure scientific validity, each white mouse weighed between 15 and 20 grams, was 4 to 6 weeks old and was bred to ensure no genetic abnormalities existed. The mice spent the first week getting used to their controlled environment in David’s parent’s basement. They received measured feedings and 12 hours of light each day. Each mouse navigated the maze to establish the base time of about 10 minutes. Then David started piping in music 10 hours a day. The control group navigated without music. He put each mouse through the maze three times a week for three weeks.

The results

The control group shaved five minutes from its original time. The mice that navigated the maze with Mozart knocked 8 1/2 minutes off their time. But the group listening to hard rock bumped through the maze, dazed and confused, taking an average of 30 minutes, tripling the amount of time it previously took to complete the maze. Most noticeably, the hard rock mice didn’t sniff the air to find the trails of others that came before them. “It was like the music dulled their senses,” David said. “It shows point-blank that hard rock has a negative effect all around. I can’t think of a positive effect that hard rock has” on learning. In fact, David thinks that the negative effects go well beyond learning. During the four-month experiment David housed each mouse in separate aquariums. That’s because last year, for a similar project, he kept each group together. The results were horrific. “I had to cut my project short because all the hard rock mice killed each other,” David said. David’s awards include first place in the behavioral science division at the Virginia State Science and Engineering Fair and the Tidewater Science Fair. He also won Northern Virginia Community College’s Veterinary Technology Award and accolades from the Newport News Art Commission, the Science and Humanitarian Symposium at James Madison University, the Navy, and the CIA.