Studying With Music: Good, Bad, or Both?
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Music is an extremely important part of human culture. There are very few places around the world where music is not practiced, celebrated and enjoyed. It could be said that music is almost as important as breathing. One will seldom find a commercial venue without at least the radio playing softly in the background. Neither will one often find a student’s bedroom study session without its multi-genre playlist. However, not all background music is created equal.
A lot of students listen to their favorite music while they study. As much as this can make homework more enjoyable, it can also have unforeseen negative effects on one’s productivity. According to Inquiries Journal and a study conducted by UC Berkley researchers, listening to stimulating music (lyrical and fast paced music) can hinder one’s ability to perform cognitive tasks such as memorization. The article went on to say that the brain becomes too distracted when “attention is drawn to the lyrics, emotions, and memories that such music can evoke.” The study also shows that listening to sedate (calming non-lyrical) music had a lesser but still present effect on cognitive ability. A different study done by researchers at the University of Wales claimed that listening to music with lyrics had a significantly negative effect on one’s ability to read or write. According to research cited in an article by Emily Southey, studying with music (even the relaxing non-lyrical kind) creates a “context-dependent learning scenario” wherein if information is memorized whilst listening to music, the brain has an easier time recalling that information later when listening to the same music, which is usually impossible to do during a test.
However, not all music is bad for studying. According to a different study conducted by researchers from Blinn College, listening to calming, low-volume music could actually be beneficial for studying. The consensus was that the music could create a calm environment that promotes cognitive ability rather than hinder it. In an article for The Independent, Journalist Max Baker cited a study by British Phycologists stating that compared to the studying environments plagued with “talkers, sneezers and traffic” that students often find themselves studying in (Student Tutor Center, cafeteria, library, home, etc.), listening to some calming instrumental music would hugely improve one’s ability to concentrate. The article also suggested that listening to music that is repetitive, constant in rhythm, and not too loud is remarkably better for concentrating than listening to music with an abnormal rhythm.
There seem to be a lot of pros and cons to listening to music while studying, but a couple of things that all the studies ultimately have in common is the consensus that music with lyrics is not conducive to retention of information. Still, for most students it is hardly humanly possible to live without music, in which case the safest bet would be to listen to some soft instrumental tunes, at least while doing reading or writing intensive homework.