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Is it good to study listening to music?

Is it good to study listening to music?

May 26, 2024

Listening to music when studying or doing work is a very common habit among university students . In libraries, many people choose to ignore the fragile and artificial silence that surrounds the tables and shelves isolated from the outside by the use of headphones and a pleasant melody.

The same happens in some offices, although in this context isolating oneself from others is more problematic if you work in a team or in a large office with open cubicles. Whether there is isolation or not, however, The common factor to these people is that they see in music a tool that can improve concentration , productivity and the performance of tasks in general.


But ... is this true? Does music really help us to concentrate better on what we are doing, whether it is memorizing a text, studying complex subjects or writing projects?

Music in repetitive tasks

For many decades now, scientific studies have been conducted around this topic; among other things because if music can serve to improve the performance of students or workers, this information can be very useful for organizations capable of financing this kind of studies.

In this way, for example, an investigation whose results were published in 1972 was designed to try to better understand the relationship between listening to melodies and changes in productivity . Through a series of observations, an increase in the performance of the workers was recorded when they listened to music that came to them from loudspeakers.


However, this research was the daughter of his time, and was used to study only a very specific and representative work context of that time: that of the factories. The tasks of the workforce were repetitive, predictable and boring , and the music acted as a stimulant of mental activity. As the work was more grateful and enjoyable, the results in productivity were also better.

Other investigations that came later served to reinforce the idea that music improves the performance of routine and monotonous tasks. This was good news, since a good part of the work force was dedicated to assembling elements in assembly lines, but ... What about the most complex and creative jobs , those that can not be made by machines? What about the study of complex university syllabuses, which can not be literally memorized but need to be understood and mentally worked?


When the task gets complicated, silence is better

It seems that when the task that is being done requires us to really concentrate on what we are doing, the presence of music is a burden that we should avoid.

For example, research published in Psychological Reports found that when a series of volunteers were asked to count backwards listening to a piece of music of their choice, those who did it while the chosen piece sounded did it significantly worse that those who had not been able to choose and simply did the task without listening to music.

Many other researches go in this same line: the most catchy melodies or that the person likes have devastating effects on performance when studying or performing moderately complex mental operations , especially if the music has lyrics in a language that is understood.

That is to say, although music is used to study, this may be due simply because that music is liked, not because it improves the results when it comes to memorizing and learning. You hear these melodies despite the effects this has on performance, not because of its effectiveness in that context.

Why is not it good to listen to music when studying?

The answer lies in two concepts: the multitasking and the attentional focus. Multitasking is the ability to perform more than one task in parallel, and is closely related to working memory . That type of memory that is responsible for maintaining in our mind elements with which we work in real time. What happens is that this kind of RAM memory of our brain is very limited, and it is believed that it can only serve to manipulate at the same time between 4 and 7 elements at a time.

The attention focus is the way in which the brain orients mental processes towards the resolution of some problems and not of others. When we concentrate on something we make a large part of our nervous system begin to work to solve it, but for this you have to pay the price of neglecting other functions .

That is why, for example, if we are walking down the street reflecting on something, it is common that we find ourselves deviating to continue walking along one of the routes we follow on a regular basis: going to work, going to the bus stop bus, etc.

But the problem of attention focus is not only that it can only encompass certain processes and not others. In addition, we must also take into account that we do not always have total control over it, and can deviate from what we should be doing very easily.

Music, in particular, is one of the great decoys that the attention usually succumbs to ; it is tremendously easy for the attention focus to be disengaged from the study or the performance of complex mental operations to be recreated in the appreciation of the melody and the verses it contains.

Motor memory

So, for those more challenging tasks it is better not to disturb our attention focus by presenting a distracting temptation in the form of catchy music and understandable lyrics. But then ... why in monotonous tasks this effect is not noticeable?

The answer is that a good part of the processes we carry out when attending to routine tasks are managed by a part of our brain that is fulfilling its objectives without the attentional focus having to intervene in it.

Specifically, motor memory , mediated by encephalic structures known as basal ganglia, is responsible for much of these sequences of automated actions. You only have to see how people who have been working for years doing pieces on an assembly line work: they may work so fast that it seems very difficult what they do, but in reality they do not even concentrate too much to carry it out.

With studies the opposite occurs. If certain university courses are difficult, it is precisely because studying them involves facing unforeseen problems constantly, and these can not be minimized using a simple melody.

Conclusion: depends on the type of content to study

The effect that music exerts on our ability to study varies according to the complexity of the contents that we must learn .

For the more mechanical and monotonous tasks, which are those in which we can always be guided by the same memorization system (for example, associating a name to each river located on a map), music can make us make more progress, although this it will not be given in all cases and there are certain personal psychological characteristics that also influence, such as the ease with which each one manages its attentional focus.

However, if music helps to study in these cases it's not because we "dope" our intelligence momentarily or anything like that, but simply because it makes that activity more enjoyable and we stay in it for longer, without looking for distractions outside.

However, the more complicated tasks, practically in all cases listening to music is counterproductive and hinders the action of studying. This is so because for this type of activities we need to take full control of our attentional focus , so that the distractions do not diminish us capacity to "operate mentally" on the contents that we must assimilate. Although we do not notice it, listen to a melody


Should You Listen to Music While Studying? (May 2024).


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