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Thursday, November 09, 2017

Music only helps you concentrate if you’re doing the right kind of task | The Conversation UK

Photo: Nick Perham
"Listening to your favourite album might not be the best idea if you've got something to do" according to Nick Perham, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Cardiff Metropolitan University.

Music and work don’t always mix. 
Photo: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock
 
Many of us listen to music while we work, thinking that it will help us to concentrate on the task at hand. And in fact, recent research has found that music can have beneficial effects on creativity. When it comes to other areas of performance, however, the impact of background music is more complicated.

The assumption that listening to music when working is beneficial to output likely has its roots in the so-called “Mozart effect”, which gained wide media attention in the early 1990s. Put simply, this is the finding that spatial rotation performance (mentally rotating a 3D dimensional shape to determine whether it matches another or not) is increased immediately after listening to the music of Mozart, compared to relaxation instructions or no sound at all. Such was the attention that this finding garnered that the then US governor of Georgia, Zell Miller, proposed giving free cassettes or CDs of Mozart’s music to prospective parents.

Subsequent studies have cast doubt on the necessity of the music of Mozart to produce this effect – a “Schubert effect”, a “Blur effect”, and even a “Stephen King effect” (his audiobook rather than his singing) have all been observed. In addition, musicians could show the effect purely from imagining the music rather than actually listening to it. 

So researchers then suggested that the “Mozart effect” was not due to his music as such, but rather to people’s optimum levels of mood and arousal. And so it became the “mood and arousal effect”.

Unfortunately, the situations in which most mood and arousal effects are observed are slightly unrealistic. Do we really sit and listen to music, switch it off, and then engage in our work in silence? More likely is that we work with our favourite tunes playing in the background. 

How sound affects performance has been the topic of laboratory research for over 40 years, and is observed through a phenomenon called the irrelevant sound effect. Basically, this effect means that performance is poorer when a task is undertaken in the presence of background sound (irrelevant sound that you are ignoring), in comparison to quiet.

To study irrelevant sound effect, participants are asked to complete a simple task which requires them to recall a series of numbers or letters in the exact order in which they saw them – similar to trying to memorise a telephone number when you have no means to write it down. In general, people achieve this by rehearsing the items either aloud or under their breath. The tricky thing is being able to do this while ignoring any background noise. 
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Source: The Conversation UK


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