Focusing effects of favorable music genres

With an extensive amount of distractions each day, people often drift into the world of music, which helps block out all unwanted background noise, and allows a little peace and quiet for the mind. But not everyone knows about the positive and negative effects of music on our concentration.

Multiple research papers have been written regarding music’s effects on cognitive performance.

One of the papers titled “Can Preference for Background Music Mediate the Irrelevant Sound Effects?” written by Dr. Nick Perham and Joanne Vizard from the University of Wales Institute Cardiff, U.K., discusses the effects and preferences of music when completing various cognitive tasks.

“When hearing a piece of music that is liked, arousal is raised and performance increases compared to listening to a piece of music that is less liked,” according to the paper about music preference matters during concentration.

They also mention that people have a misconception of what they should listen to if they want to increase their concentration levels.

"Listening to background music prior to task performance increases cognitive processes, such as attention and memory, through the mechanisms of increasing arousal and positive mood,” states the research paper.

Many students choose to play music while studying instead of placing their headphones aside, believing their concentration is improving. However, based on Perham and Vizard’s study, such misunderstanding could actually cause the opposite effect.

Adriana Furnham and Anna Bradley, from the department of psychology at the University College London explain that enjoyment of background music depends not only on the music genres or preferences, but also on the personal characteristics, which as a result can negatively impact some people.

In their research paper, “Music While You Work: The Differential Distraction of Background Music on the Cognitive Test Performance of Introverts and Extroverts,” Furnham and Bradley show that, when performing in silence, both extroverts and introverts have similar performance results.

However, when background music is introduced, extroverts perform much better than their introvert counterparts.

“While there was no difference in the scores of extroverts, introverts’ performances were, as predicted, significantly poorer in the presence than in the absence of music," Furnham and Bradley state in their paper.

The results of extroverts were very similar under both silent and music conditions, and had little to no impact on their achievement, according to the study.

“Introverts were also less able to complete the reading comprehension as successfully in the presence of music," explain Furnham and Bradley. "It appears that some mental processes, for example those of attention and recall, are more affected by the presence of a distraction than others."

As a result, students who are more introverted might actually hurt their concentration by playing background music if they are not used to such study practices.

In another research paper titled “The impact of Music on Childhood and Adolescent Achievement,” Derby E. Southgate and Vincent J. Roscigno from Ohio State University mention the famous “Mozart Effect” during which students, after listening to Mozart’s music, perform better on their exams.

“College students who listen to Mozart prior to taking a pencil and paper test of abstract spatial reasoning perform better than their counterparts who do not listen to Mozart,” explain Southgate and Roscigno.

Many studies have been done to replicate the “Mozart Effect,” but failed and did not manage to further support the hypothesis, according to the Wilson Center of Humanities and Arts, and when the effect occurs, it is attributed to psychological arousal and mood generated by the music testing conditions.

Perham and Vizard draw a conclusion that the arousal and thus cognitive performance increases due to the amount of likeness one has for a certain genre of music.

While music for studying might not always give positive results, Furnham and Bradley say that in a work environment, under certain conditions, music can improve the levels of performance. They also note that workers prefer music that is instrumental, rather than vocal during work hours.

"Playing music whilst carrying out a repetitive task can raise performance levels, particularly when this music is played just after the arousal level has peaked," according to Furnham and Bradley.

The few studies discussed state that students should listen to music before studying, avoid vocals, and listen to music while studying only if they like the music.

However, some SMC students have a different view on studying with music.

Rebeca Montenego, 20, and Cesar Martinez, 19, say they could not study if they did not have their favorite metal bands playing through their head phones.

“I concentrate more when I listen to music,” Montenego says.

“It is really relaxing," Martinez says. "It helps me study.”

Both mention they like metal due to its deep lyrics, which does not seem to distract them while studying.

While Martinez and Montenego prefer metal, a SMC communications major from China, Shengying Zhang, 19, listens to classical music when studying.

“It is kind of relaxing, and when I draw it is inspiring,” says Zhang, who listens to pop rock such as Maroon 5 in her free time.

SMC student Chad Bennett listens to background music while performing some tasks.

“It really depends on what I am doing," Bennett says. "If I am answering questions for some assignment or writing an outline or something, then I will listen to music. If I am writing a paper or studying for a test, then I think I’d need more silence.”

While some students prefer listening to music while studying, communications major Diana P. Thomas says she does not always find it particularly helpful.

"For the most part, I get distracted," she says. "It depends on what I'm listening to. Usually, if I am studying, I will listen to classical background music, so it kind of does help me in certain subjects, but for the most part I try not to."



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