Image from freedigitalphotos.net. (I apologize in advance- there were no good comics for this topic.)
If you’re a student, I am almost willing to bet that you have music playing right now. Maybe it’s Drake, maybe it’s Mumford and Sons, or maybe it’s The Beatles. Whatever your preference, I’m sure you love listening to your favorite artists every chance you get— maybe even while you study. Is playing your favorite song an easy way to make that homework bearable, or are you hurting your performance?
Previous research has found numerous benefits to listening to music before performing a task– it improves attention, memory, and even mental math ability. It has also been found to alleviate depression and anxiety.
However, the more realistic scenario is that students will study or do homework while playing “background music.” A recent study at the University of Wales looked at how background music affects students’ ability to complete a serial recall (remembering items in a specific order) test.
Students were given a serial recall test in five different scenarios–
1. A quiet environment
2. With “steady state” speech. This means a single word (in this case, “three”) was repeated for the duration of the test
3. With “changing state” speech. This means a variety of words (in this case, random digits from 1-9) were played during the test
4. With “liked” music, meaning a song of the students choice (such as Lady Gaga, Rihanna, or Arcade Fire). Students brought in their own music, the only requirement was that it had to have vocals
5. With “disliked” music, which in this case was a metal song called “Thrashers” by Death Angel (all students in the study disliked metal)
The researchers expected that the changing state speech would have the most detrimental effect on the students’ performance. Think about it like this– changing state is like having to do your homework while someone else is talking. Steady state is more like repetitive background noise (a noisy heater, for example), which is easier to tune out.
Surprisingly, the results actually found no significant difference between test scores with liked music, disliked music, and changing state speech. In other words, whether students enjoyed the music or not, having it on while they worked was just as distracting as hearing someone talk. Scores were significantly higher for tests taken in a quiet environment or with steady-state speech. In a subjective assessment of each scenario, students did say that the test with their liked music was “more pleasant,” but they did not find it any less distracting. The researchers hypothesize that they would see similar results if they were to repeat this procedure using a reading comprehension test.
But before you sadly put your iPod away, feeling that you’ve lost your only way of making homework bearable, consider this: Another similar study that tested liked music’s effect on attention found similar results, but the researchers also noticed something intriguing. The students who took a test with music did have a lower average score than those who didn’t have music, but the researchers noted that there was a lot of variation in the scores. This could imply that the effect of music can vary a lot from person to person, and they believe that more research needs to be done on how factors such as tempo, genre, or whether students are used to having music on, make any difference.
Furthermore, we should also note that these studies only looked at music with vocals, and not music that was purely instrumental. Research from the University of Dayton found that students performed better at spatial and linguistic processing if Mozart was playing in the background. So maybe having instrumental music can help performance, since it doesn’t have any distracting vocals. Again, think about it like you’re trying to work while someone’s talking to you (or just consider that maybe you’ll feel like singing along instead of doing your work!)
So should you listen to music while you study or do homework? Unfortunately, the answer I have to give you is “it depends!” It seems like in general, music with vocals is distracting, while instrumental music might actually help your performance.
We will have to wait for more research, but for now I’d say if you want some music to lighten up that homework, go for some instrumental jazz, classical, or if you’re a movie-addict like me, try a movie score (the soundtrack of The Social Network got me through GRE prep).
Tagged as: attention, cognitive performance, college, music, music while studying, performance, Students
Sep 25 2016by Destiny Abercrumbie
5 Reasons Why You Should Listen to Music While Doing HomeworkBy Destiny Abercrumbie - Sep 25 2016
If you are like me, then when you have to study for a test or do any type of homework, doing it in complete silence just feels weird. You need something to happen in the background, a little noise that can help you stay focused and not let your mind wander off. The perfect solution is to listen to music while doing homework because it helps block off the rest of the world's distractions. To some people, it may be a bad thing, but here's why it's a good thing.
1. Music helps you study.
There have been studies done by universities such as The University of Wales that show that listening to music while studying can improve memory, attention and your ability to do mental math, as well as lessen depression and anxiety.
Researchers also did a test to see how background music affects students' test scores. The students who took a test with music did have a lower average score than those who didn’t have music, but the researchers noted that there was a lot of variation in the scores. This could tell us that the effect of music can vary a lot from person to person. Researchers believe that more research needs to be done on how the factors of tempo, genre or whether students are used to having music on make any difference.
2. Music helps you focus.
According to a study done at Johns Hopkins University, playing background music for creativity and reflection activities such as journaling, writing, problem-solving, goal-setting, project work or brainstorming is a great thing. There are also many uses for music including active learning. You can take a sound break or move around activities to increase productivity, energize students during daily energy lulls, provide a stimulating sound break to increase attention, make exercise more fun and encourage movement activities. To read more on this study, click here.
3. 'The Mozart Effect' is a real thing.
The Mozart Effect is book by Don Campbell that has the world's research on all the beneficial effects of certain type of music. This book includes research on how music makes us smarter. Scientists at Stanford University in California have recently revealed a molecular basis for the Mozart Effect, but not other music. Dr. Rauscher and her colleague H. Li, a geneticist, have discovered that rats, like humans, perform better on learning and memory tests after listening to a specific Mozart sonata.Some of the many benefits of the Mozart Effect include improvement in test scores, cut learning times, reduced errors, improved creativity and clarity, faster body healing, integration of both sides of the brain for more efficient learning and raised IQ scores by nine points, according to research done at University of California, Irvine.
4. Music makes us smarter.
In 1996, the College Entrance Exam Board Serviceconducted a study on all students taking their SAT exams. Students who either sang or played a musical instrument scored an average of 51 points higher on the verbal portion of the test and an average of 39 points higher on math. According to the research outlined in the book, musical pieces such as those of Mozart can relieve stress, improve communication and increase efficiency. Music starts up our brain and makes us feel more energetic and a link has been made between music and learning.
According to Don Campbell, the author of the Mozart Effect, "In the workplace, music raises performance levels and productivity by reducing stress and tension, masking irritating sounds and contributing to a sense of privacy."
5. Music improves the brain and helps heal the body.
Music also stimulates different regions of the brain responsible for memory, motor control, timing and language. At McGill University in Montreal, neuroscientist Anne Blood, said, "You can activate different parts of the brain, depending on what music you listen to. So music can stimulate parts of the brain that are underactive in neurological diseases or a variety of emotional disorders. Over time, we could retrain the brain in these disorders."
Harvard University Medical School neurobiologist, Mark Jude Tramo, says that "Undeniably, there is a biology of music. There is no question that there is specialization within the human brain for the processing of music. Music is biologically part of human life, just as music is aesthetically part of human life."
In conclusion, there are many benefits to listening to music and it is not a bad thing to do in order to stay focused. So if you ever need a solution to stay focused or concentrate on the task at hand, slip on a pair of headphones and play some music.
Lead Image Credit: Steinar La Engeland via Unsplash