Post Written by Meagan Watson
Do you listen to music while you do assigned homework? Do you listen to music while you study? If you are a high school student I would assume that you said yes to at least one of these questions. As high school student, when I am in the library or any public study space I often see the majority of my peers with headphones in while doing their work. Often people’s reasoning for doing this is because they want to “tune out” all of the distractions and conversations happening around them. Furthermore, if they are “tuning out” all of the distracting sounds around them then they think they are successfully staying focused and internalizing whatever material they are working on.
How is this constant auditory stimulus affecting our cognitive processing? In a recent study, Nick Perham and Harriet Currie investigated whether or not listening to music affects comprehension performance. More specifically, they were interested in whether or not listening to preferred music affects comprehension performance. The researchers wanted to know whether or not the type of music that you listen to while you are studying (lyrical, non-lyrical, liked, disliked) can improve how well you retain that information.
According to Kahneman and colleagues, our attention is allocated based on a capacity framework model. This model explains that our attention is a finite resource and different activities and tasks require different amounts of that limited resource. So when you are listening to music, this model explains how you may have less attention at your disposal when trying to read for class or finish that problem set, especially when you are listening to music with lyrics.
Results showed that reading comprehension performance was greatest for the quiet and non-lyrical music conditions and poorest for the lyrical conditions. It did not matter whether or not the participant "liked or disliked" the music, but rather whether or not the music had lyrics. However, participants believed that of the lyric music condition they performed better when they preferred the music rather than disliked it. This means that even though we enjoy listening to music we like, it is not all that helpful when completing homework.
I find this to be true in my own life. I often drift towards playing music that I enjoy as I complete my homework. Honestly, it makes the task of homework completion at least a little more enjoyable. The issue with this, however, is that although I enjoy listening to music, listening to lyrical music is actually harming my performance and concentration on my homework.
These results show that no matter how much you like the music you are listening to, and no matter how much you think it is keeping you focused, it actually provides an attentional distraction that detracts from your ability to process the information for meaning and perform well on a memory test. So now we come to the question of whether or not listening to music while performing tasks that demand our attention for later retrieval, such as studying for an exam, is better than listening to all of the distracting conversations going on around you. According to this article, neither, because in both cases you are only giving a part of your attention to the task, whereas if you were in a quiet location you could be contributing more, if not all, of your attentional resources to that same task. The main take away from this article then is that in order to retain the most information and hopefully get the best results on your next exam try studying without the help of Justin Bieber or Beyoncé and maybe put a little more Beethoven in your life.
To view the full article click here
References (in APA):
Perham, N., & Currie, H. (2014). Does listening to preferred music improve reading comprehension performance? Applied Cognitive Psychology Appl. Cognit. Psychol., 28(2), 279-284. doi:DOI: 10.1002/acp.2994
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Ms. Carrigan's Psych Class
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