Is Listening to Music While Working a good choice?


A piece of classic advice which comes from Snow White is “whistle while you work.” This advice is backed to a certain extent by science. Listening to music while running on a treadmill helps people persevere through their runs. How does music create a backdrop from mental work?

Work + Music = It’s Very Complicated

The question seems quite simple, maybe this is the reason that no one has attempted to answer it satisfactorily. According to the “Mozart effect”, people sparked stronger spatial reasoning when they listened to Mozart sonatas before mental activity. But what about Mozart sonatas during an activity?

Difficult to say. There have been several studies which have tried to answer this question but the results of them have been mixed. This is why a recent study has proposed that the effect of music on the performance of work is complicated. It’s not just “bad” or “good” — but depends on the type of work, the worker’s personality and the type of music.

To experiment on this hypothesis, the researchers selected 142 undergraduate students and asked them to finish two tasks, one simple and other a bit complicated. The simple task was to search and cross the words which included the letter “a” while the complicated was to study the pairs of words and then recall them in a test.

The subjects performed their tasks either in silence or with instrumental music. The music was either simple or complex. (Both tracks had similar sounds of piano, string and synth components; the complex one had drums and bass layered one after the other.)

After this exercise, each subject had to undergo an evaluation which gauged how much they enjoyed this simulation. The 28 question simulation asked the subjects to give their responses on statements like “I am seldom excited about my work.” Researchers had assessed the personalities of participants before too.

So…. Which people performed the best?
The researchers found very counterintuitive results. Basically, it was found that people who had a preference for external simulation were able to perform less while listening to music. They were the ones who performed the task well better in silence. Their peers who didn’t prefer external disturbances performed best when music was played.

These results suggest that people who depend on external simulation have a large, almost awkward amount of attention which they give the world. Their attention splits easily when they are into multiple activities. But when their attention is isolated, they can get deeply absorbed. However, people on the other end of the spectrum were benefitted from the distraction as their attention kept on diverting.


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