In today’s fast-paced world, students are continually looking for ways to optimize their learning and concentration while studying. One hotly debated method is listening to music while studying – but does it genuinely help? While some individuals claim that music helps them focus and learn more proficiently, others argue that it distracts from the task at hand. This article will delve into the science behind the impact of music on study performance and identify whether incorporating music into study sessions is a beneficial strategy.
Effects of Listening to Music While You Study
How it affects cognitive function and memory
First and foremost, we need to understand how music can impact cognitive function and memory. Research has indicated that music potentially has positive effects on various cognitive processes. For example, a study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology found that different kinds of background music can help with your creative thinking. Another study found that listening to happy music can stimulate divergent thinking, an element in creative thinking.
Several studies have suggested that listening to classical music, particularly pieces composed by Mozart, can temporarily enhance spatial-temporal reasoning abilities in individuals. This phenomenon is known as the “Mozart Effect.” A study published in PubMed showed increased IQ test scores by 8 to 9 points after listening to music composed by Mozart. The researchers attribute this effect to the fact that Mozart music has more repeated melodic lines than music by other composers. Another study done by Hetland found increased spatial-temporal task (a type of task that asks people to mentally manipulate objects in space and time) performance after listening to Mozart music.
In some cases, however, background music can decrease a student’s cognitive function. For example, listening to vocal music has been found to decrease a student’s reading comprehension. This is because the brain is dividing its focus between the words on the page and the auditory input. Moreover, research suggests that listening to music can reduce working memory capacity. You use working memory when you are doing some mental tasks such as doing a math question that involves many steps. If you have a reduced working memory, it becomes more difficult for you to handle a complex cognitive task.
How it affects your focus
One critical aspect of effective studying is the ability to maintain focus and concentration. Can you concentrate more when you listen to music while studying? A study by Stanford University reported that music engages the part of the brain that helps you concentrate and make predictions. If the background music have low to moderate volume levels and minimal lyrics, it might even help those with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) concentrate better.
While there are benefits to listening to music while studying, we cannot ignore the potential drawbacks. Some individuals find that music can be distracting and negatively impacts their focus and learning. This is especially true if the music has lyrics or intricate instrumentations. In fact, a 2013 study showed that college students who studied academic materials performed significantly better in their tasks and attained higher test grades when they studied in silence than when they studied with any kind of music on.
The research results are mixed. The effect on music on individual’s concertation largely depends on the music and individual circumstances. Listening to music may help some people concentrate if they easily get distracted. But, listening to music, particularly songs with lyrics, can divide an individual’s attention, making it more difficult to process and retain new information. If your child likes One Piece, playing the opening themes of One Piece is probably not a good idea if she is doing her homework.
In general, when a student is studying a subject that requires high levels of concentration and problem-solving, it is better to study in silent. For example, if your child is writing an essay or solving a challenging math question, silence is the way to go. On the other hand, for simpler tasks that requires a minimal amount of higher-order thinking, some form of lyric-less background music can help fight boredom and maintain focus. Some examples are coloring a drawing or practicing simple arithmetic.
How it affects your emotion
It is well established that music has a significant impact on our emotions. We all experience joy when we listen to the songs we like. Listening to pleasurable music can lead to the release of dopamine, which is responsible for the feeling of happiness. Music can also help to reduce stress levels and promote a more relaxed state. This is important for students who are stressed due to their academic workload or pressure.
Listening to music can also help elevate mood and increase motivation. Music can reduce fatigue and act as a stimulant, maintaining alertness and improving attention. This is especially helpful during long study sessions. For high school and university or college students, listening to their favorite music can help them relax. It can help them improve their mood and view the world as a positive place.
For students who are highly stressed, music might provide the “therapy” that they need. Academic competition is stressful. It negatively impacts a student’s emotional wellbeing. Every year, there are university students who commit suicide, anecdotally because they couldn’t handle the intense pressure to excel in school. If your mental health is deteriorating, consider taking periodic breaks and indulge yourself in the music that you love.
What Kind of Music Is Helpful When I Study?
It is essential to recognize that the impact of music on study performance is highly dependent on individual preferences and needs. What works for one person may not necessarily work for another. To maximize your study performance while incorporating music, you should consider the following recommendations:
- Select music with fewer lyrics or familiar songs, as they are less likely to distract.
- Choose music with a moderate tempo, avoiding overly fast or slow tracks.
- Experiment with different types of music, such as classical or ambient, to find what works best for you.
- Ensure the volume is set at a reasonable level, allowing you to concentrate without straining your ears.
The best music for studying varies depending on personal preferences. However, some general recommendations include classical music, instrumental music, ambient soundscapes, and low-key electronic music. Music without lyrics is typically less distracting, allowing you to focus better on your studies. Also, consider the task that your undertaking. If you are doing a task that requires in-depth thinking or information processing, consider studying in silence. If you are feeling stressed, consider taking a break and listening to your favorite music to alleviate stress and anxiety.
The impact of music on study performance is highly nuanced and dependent on the individual and the specifics of the task at hand. While some may find listening to music beneficial for focus, learning, and motivation, others may experience distraction and diminished performance. If you choose to incorporate music into your study sessions, be sure to tailor your playlist to suit your personal preferences and task requirements to optimize your learning experience.
Richard Zhang, M.Ed., is an educator and a software developer with a Masters degree in education from University of Toronto and an immense passion for education and learning. Until the pandemic, Richard owned an award-winning learning centre in Toronto. For 15 years, he has taught and mentored hundreds of elementary, middle school, and high school students succeed in academics. He is also an app developer specializing in web and mobile application in educational and business sectors.