Many people listen to music while doing a variety of tasks, such as cleaning dishes or reading. Some people are especially adamant about listening to music while working or preparing for an exam because they think it helps them focus. But what is the scientific consensus on this? And do some musical genres have a greater impact on us than others?
Researchers at the University of California, Irvine carried out an experiment in 1993 to look at how music affected the participants’ ability to think, remember, learn, pay attention, and process information. Three groups of college students were formed.
For ten minutes, one group focused on listening to Mozart’s Sonata 448 for two pianos. While a third group of students was told to sit in a quiet room, another group of students listened to instructions for reaching a condition of peace and tranquilly. Following that, each student was given a task derived from the standard Stanford-Binet intelligence (IQ) assessments that evaluated their capacity for adaptation and their spatial vision.
When compared to the other two groups, the students who listened to Mozart scored higher on the task. But maybe from the beginning they were more adept? The groups were switched so order to rule out any early differences, and the new group—which had just finished listening to Mozart—consistently outperformed the previous two.
The startled scientists coined the term “Mozart effect” to describe this phenomena, which is an enhancement in spatial task performance following the hearing of a Mozart composition. Many successful enterprises, like the makers of the “baby Mozart” recordings, which claim to improve children’s intelligence, grew as a result of this effect.
Reading the study itself, however, makes it evident that these assertions are unfounded; the students’ talents were not permanently improved; rather, their performance on the tasks improved momentarily.
Subsequent studies attempting to replicate the Mozart effect yielded mixed results – some were successful, while others found nothing. A review of studies conducted up to 2010, involving dozens of experiments with over 3,000 participants over the years, showed that the Mozart effect did exist, but its magnitude was small. In other words, the effect of music is modest, and the statistical relationship between listening to music and improving performance is a weak one.
However, it’s worth noting that not all studies required the same abilities from the participants: many involved tasks that tested spatial visualization, while others focused on attention and response time. This may be another reason for the variations in the results.
For instance, a 2022 study demonstrated that listening to Mozart’s music improved the participants’ performance on a ‘Stroop’ task, which assesses attention and response time in confusing situations. However, we cannot conclude from this that listening to music will have the same effect on language skills, memory abilities or spatial orientation.
Publication bias, which occurs when more studies showing an impact than none are published, is another element that fuels the belief in the “Mozart effect.” Though it hasn’t been released, there might be additional proof that the Mozart effect doesn’t exist.
According to a new analysis of eight separate studies carried out at various research facilities across the globe, listening to Mozart has no impact on how well people execute cognitive activities.
But is that Mozart particularly, just a moment ago? Will pieces by The Beatles, Noa Kirel, and Mozart have the same impact? And what about background music while the task is being completed?Listening to music requires attention from our brain, so it is easy to assume that it might actually hinder task performance. How does this fit in with the guy in the office who works with headphones?
It depends on the task, is the answer. Three exams were administered to study participants in 2010: a maths test, a chart test, and a test of language skills. Every test was performed in one of three ways: in quiet, while listening to instrumental music without lyrics, or while listening to well-known songs with lyrics (like Rihanna’s Umbrella).
The individuals in the language test performed best when they were completely silent. This indicates that listening to music, even silently, demanded attention from the subjects and had a negative impact on their performance. There is a dearth of data supporting the claim that classical or instrumental music helps in reading, and a wealth of research opposing the claim that music with lyrics improves performance on activities like reading.
The majority of the time, background music had a detrimental impact on memory task performance, according to a review of hundreds of studies that looked into how it affected performance across different domains. On the other hand, those who listened to music either before to or during exercise expressed greater enjoyment from their session, felt less exhausted, and used more oxygen.
Do the songs we heard as children have an impact on us as well? It appears that it really does. According to a 2016 study, listening to familiar music helped participants perform better on a verbal memory task than listening to new music. The study did not discover any connection between the subjects’ performance on numerical memory or arithmetic problems and their degree of acquaintance with the music.
In a different study, rhythm was found to have an impact on participants’ performance when it came to physical exercise. Those who listened to louder, more rhythmic music used greater force and engaged their muscles.
In conclusion, the situation is multifaceted and contingent on the kind of music and the nature of the assignment. Similar to its effects during physical exertion, music may improve your performance, motivation, and rhythm if the task at hand is not too difficult.
It could be wiser to choose instrumental music for more difficult jobs that call for greater focus and attention, or perhaps to completely avoid music—or at the very least, to listen to it beforehand rather than during the task.
However, at the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all rule: each individual’s brain function, abilities and preferences all play a significant role in determining the effect of music in a given situation.