Can Music Help You Study?

Ever wondered why Hobbes’ Leviathan seems so daunting to get through – and not just because it’s written in old English? Puzzled about why you just can’t seem to formulate the perfect sentence for a term paper? The key may lie in the music you’re listening to.

According to Benj Wansker-Kirsh, a musician and fourth-year student researcher in Cognitive Systems, how frequently students listen to music while writing a paper or reading course material can impact their level of attention.

Wansker-Kirsh discussed an experiment where students were asked to carry out tasks while listening to music. Students who were used to listening to music while studying performed at the same level as they would if they were not listening to music. There were no noticeable benefits or negative impacts of working while listening to music.

However, students not used to listening to music while studying performed worse when they were exposed to music during the experiment. The good news is that students who are not used to studying with music can get used to doing so quite quickly, and they would not see any noticeable negative impacts on concentration or learning capacity.

“It doesn’t take long to get used to studying with music,” said Wansker-Kirsh. “A really good way to get accustomed to studying with music is to pick up a book that’s not for school, and read it with some background music.”

Different genres of music also affect students’ concentration. Wansker-Kirsh found that music with vocals can distract from cognitive processing, especially when doing work involving verbal or literary analysis. While some soothing instrumental music may help with writing term papers, blasting Beyoncé may not be the best idea.

The best music to study to, he says, is music with a steady beat that students are already familiar with. Wansker-Kirsh also suggests that music should not to be too loud, but if the music is too quiet, students may spend too much attention attempting to hear the music than focusing on their work.

“The more familiar you are with the music, the better you’ll work with it,” said Wansker-Kirsh, “since nothing comes as a surprise in the music and there are no salient features in the music which are unexpected and will catch your attention.”

Written by Mary Leong
Article Published November 28, 2011