Music and distraction

Does music impede studying and thinking?
psychology, bibliography, technology, music
2012-09-262019-03-03 in progress certainty: unlikely importance: 8

We like mu­sic but does it help or harm cog­ni­tive per­for­mance when we have mu­sic play­ing all the time?

Note this is a differ­ent ques­tion from the in that the Mozart-effect stud­ies usu­ally test per­for­mance after lis­ten­ing to clas­si­cal mu­sic, while we’re in­ter­ested in per­for­mance dur­ing lis­ten­ing to all kinds of mu­sic; the Mozart effect has been largely de­bunked (no/small effect) but that does­n’t tell us much about dur­ing mu­sic (it could be per­for­mance fell dur­ing lis­ten­ing and re­cov­ered after­wards when test­ed).

Cur­rent best meta-analy­sis: , Kampfe et al 2011?

“Sphe­rion Sur­vey: Work­ers Say Lis­ten­ing to Mu­sic While Work­ing Im­proves Job Sat­is­fac­tion, Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty; Nearly one-third of adult work­ers lis­ten to mu­sic at work us­ing an iPod, MP3 player or sim­i­lar per­sonal mu­sic de­vice” The effects of mu­sic on mood, anx­i­ety, and job sat­is­fac­tion: self­-re­ports from oc­cu­pa­tional work­ers “The myths of the dig­i­tal na­tive and the mul­ti­tasker”, Kirschner & De Bruy­ckere 2017

Sum­mary of

In lab stud­ies, peo­ple who lis­ten to mu­sic they like, gen­er­ally per­form bet­ter at men­tal tasks after­wards, an effect that’s been at­trib­uted to boosts in mood and arousal. But what about the effect of back­ground mu­sic that plays on dur­ing a task - more akin what we do in real life? This is ac­tu­ally less stud­ied. The tra­di­tional mood-arousal lit­er­a­ture would pre­dict it to be ben­e­fi­cial too, es­pe­cially if the mu­sic is to the lis­ten­er’s taste.

How­ev­er, there’s an­other line of re­search, known as the “Ir­rel­e­vant Sound Effect”, that’s all about the way back­ground sounds can in­ter­fere with our short­-term mem­ory for or­dered lists, which would be a bad thing for many work-re­lated tasks. These stud­ies show that the dis­trac­tion is greater when the sound is more acousti­cally var­ied - just like your typ­i­cal pop song. Based on this, Nick Per­ham and Mar­tinne Sykora made a coun­ter-in­tu­itive pre­dic­tion - back­ground mu­sic that you like will be more detri­men­tal to work­ing mem­ory than un­ap­peal­ing mu­sic, so long as the liked mu­sic has more acousti­cal vari­a­tion than the dis­liked mu­sic.

Twen­ty-five un­der­grads com­pleted sev­eral se­r­ial re­call tasks. They were pre­sented with strings of eight con­so­nants and had to re­peat them back from mem­ory in the cor­rect or­der. Per­for­mance was best in the quiet con­di­tion, but the key find­ing was that par­tic­i­pants’ per­for­mance was worse when they com­pleted the mem­ory task with a song they liked play­ing over head­phones (In­fer­nal’s “From Paris to Berlin”), com­pared with a song they dis­liked (songs such as “Acid Bath” from the grind core metal band Re­pul­sion). In case you’re won­der­ing, par­tic­i­pants who liked Re­pul­sion were ex­cluded from the study.

Par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant, since peo­ple like to claim their fa­vorite mu­sic “helps them fo­cus” (e­spe­cially if it’s vo­cal? per the ):

A fur­ther in­trigu­ing de­tail from the study is the par­tic­i­pants’ lack of in­sight into the de­gree of dis­trac­tion as­so­ci­ated with each type of mu­sic. Asked to judge their own per­for­mance, they de­ter­mined cor­rectly that their mem­ory was more ac­cu­rate in the quiet con­di­tion, but they did­n’t re­alise that their per­for­mance was poor­est whilst lis­ten­ing to the mu­sic they liked.

Phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ty:


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Mu­si­cal dis­tracters, per­son­al­ity type and cog­ni­tive per­for­mance in school chil­dren A Furn­ham, R Stephen­son - Psy­chol­ogy of Mu­sic, 2007

Fast and loud back­ground mu­sic dis­rupts read­ing com­pre­hen­sion WF Thomp­son, EG Schel­len­berg… - Psy­chol­ogy of …, 2012

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The im­pact of back­ground mu­sic on adult lis­ten­ers: A meta-analy­sis Kampfe et al 2011

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“The rhyth­m’s gonna get ya’–back­ground mu­sic in pri­mary class­rooms and its effect on be­hav­iour and at­tain­ment”, Bloor 2009

“The Effects of Back­ground Mu­sic on High School Stu­dents’ Read­ing Com­pre­hen­sion”, Li et al 2012

“The Effect of Mu­sic on the Level of Men­tal Con­cen­tra­tion and its Tem­po­ral Change”, Mori et al

[HTML] The effects of back­ground noise on cog­ni­tive per­for­mance dur­ing a 70 hour sim­u­la­tion of con­di­tions aboard the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion DG Smith, JV Baran­ski, MM Thomp­son… - Noise and …, 2003 - noise­and­

Eye move­ments and read­ing com­pre­hen­sion while lis­ten­ing to pre­ferred and non-pre­ferred study mu­sic R Jo­hansson, K Holmqvist, F Moss­berg… - Psy­chol­ogy of …, 2012 - pom.sagepub­.­com

The in­flu­ence of back­ground mu­sic on recog­ni­tion processes of Chi­nese char­ac­ters: An ERP study B Liu, Y Huang, Z Wang, G Wu - Neu­ro­science let­ters, 2012 - El­se­vier

[CITATION] The effect of back­ground mu­sic on learn­ing words DH Schus­ter - Jour­nal of Ac­cel­er­a­tive Learn­ing and Teach­ing, 1985

Us­ing Back­ground Mu­sic To En­hance Mem­ory and Im­prove Learn­ing. S An­der­son, J Henke, M McLaugh­lin, M Ripp, P Tuffs - 2000 - ERIC

BACKGROUND MUSIC AND COGNITIVE PERFORMANCE 1, 2 LA An­gel, DJ Polzel­la, GC Elvers - Per­cep­tual and mo­tor skills, 2010 - am­sciepub­.­com

Can pref­er­ence for back­ground mu­sic me­di­ate the ir­rel­e­vant sound effect? N Per­ham, J Vizard - Ap­plied Cog­ni­tive Psy­chol­o­gy, 2011 - Wi­ley On­line Li­brary

The gen­der differ­ence in dis­trac­tion of back­ground mu­sic and noise on the cog­ni­tive task per­for­mance Y Jing, S Jing, C Hua­jian… - … (ICNC), 2012 Eighth …, 2012 - iee­ex­



An in­ves­ti­ga­tion of cog­ni­tive test per­for­mance across con­di­tions of si­lence, back­ground noise and mu­sic as a func­tion of neu­roti­cism J Reynolds, A Mc­Clel­land, A Furn­ham - Anx­i­ety, Stress, & Cop­ing, 2014 - Tay­lor & Fran­cis

Back­ground sound mod­u­lates the per­for­mance of odor dis­crim­i­na­tion task HS Seo, V Gudzi­ol, A Häh­n­er, T Hum­mel - Ex­per­i­men­tal brain re­search, 2011 - Springer

Does Mu­sic Help or Hin­der the Eng­lish Lan­guage Learn­er? A Re­view of the Lit­er­a­ture V Schrader - 2010 - files.vick­ischrad­er.webn­ode.­com

Dis­tur­bance effect of mu­sic on pro­cess­ing of ver­bal and spa­tial mem­o­ries M Iwana­ga, T Ito - Per­cep­tual and mo­tor skills, 2002 - am­sciepub­.­com

The In­ter­ac­tion be­tween Mu­sic and Task Per­for­mance: The Tower of Hanoi & Mis­sion­ar­ies and Can­ni­bals J Pi­ocuda - 2009 - li­

Effects of lyri­cal mu­sic on read­ing com­pre­hen­sion Z Li­apis, Z Gid­dens, M Uh­len­brock

Mu­sic While You Work: The Effects of Back­ground Mu­sic on Test Per­for­mance amongst Ex­tro­verts and In­tro­verts. H Mis­try - Jour­nal of Ap­plied Psy­chol­ogy and So­cial Sci­ence, 2015

[BOOK] The effects of back­ground mu­sic on the read­ing per­for­mance of Tai­wanese ESL stu­dents P Chou - 2007 - book­s.­google.­com

The Effect of Mu­sic Pref­er­ence on Com­plex Task Per­for­mance J Mc­Don­ald - Global Tides, 2013 - dig­i­tal­com­mon­s.pep­per­

Cor­re­la­tion be­tween work con­cen­tra­tion level and back­ground mu­sic: A pi­lot study YN Shih, RH Huang, H Chi­ang - Work, 2009 - schol­ar.fju.e­

(note that Shih et al 2009 is an RCT, de­spite the ti­tle)


Effect of mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ence on ver­bal mem­ory in Williams syn­drome: ev­i­dence from a novel word learn­ing task MA Martens, MK Jungers, AL Steele - Neu­ropsy­cholo­gia, 2011 - El­se­vier

Mu­sic lis­ten­ing while you learn: No in­flu­ence of back­ground mu­sic on ver­bal learn­ing L Jancke, P Sand­mann - Be­hav­ioral and Brain Func­tions, 2010 - bio­med­cen­tral.­com

Per­son­al­ity and mu­sic: An effect on arith­metic per­for­mance S Ahlawat, P Ba­tra, A Sharma - In­dian Jour­nal of Pos­i­tive …, 2012

“Back­ground mu­sic: effects on at­ten­tion per­for­mance”, Shih et al 2012

The effect of back­ground mu­sic on cog­ni­tive per­for­mance in mu­si­cians and non-mu­si­cians LLM PATSTON, L TIPPETT - Mu­sic Per­cep­tion /docs/music-distraction/2011-patston.pdf

“In­flu­ence of back­ground mu­sic on work at­ten­tion in clients with chronic schiz­o­phre­nia”, Shih et al 2014

Uso de la música para mejo­rar tar­eas mo­toras de los tra­ba­jadores” [“Mu­sic use to im­prove work­ers’ mo­tor tasks”], Gómez 2017 (re­view)

“The effects of back­ground mu­sic on the work at­ten­tion per­for­mance be­tween mu­si­cians and non-mu­si­cians”, Wu & Shih 2019