To most people, music is a big part of their lives. People listen to music almost everywhere they go, bringing it with them to pass time or for enjoyment. I am trying to figure out if music has the potential to academically help students. In this article, the leading question I researched was “does study music really help?”. I conducted a survey to collect data on this question, and have found that most participants prefer to work without music since it causes distraction, while others prefer listening to music during their work.
Most people listen to music. Music has many different meanings to people depending on their age, gender, lifestyle, and more. Research suggests there are many different paths that music can take on an individual. Some research explains how music helps with stimulation and inspiration, while other research calls music a distraction that decreases productivity in a workplace. My goal was to find out if study music really did help people study, or if it is just some myth. I would consider this paper to be under the “research paper” genre since I am asking a leading question using primary and secondary research, with the audience being students who want to learn if listening to study music will help them study better.
Many other studies have asked related questions like what is the effect of music to mental diseases, or how music helps influence the development of children (Rebecchini), but there has not been a study specifically targeted towards study music and whether or not it serves its purpose. This is where I focused my time, and I found out what participants thought of study music when asked to read and critically analyze a paper. For the UCD population, this study would be beneficial to gauge how good study music is for students. Three bits of background information to know before reading my paper is to know what study music is, what the theoretical positive side effects of study music are, and that everyone is different in terms of what helps them study. For context, study music is any music that is usually non-lyrical and has a consistent beat. The general consensus with study music is that it gives one’s brain some background noise while working on other tasks. I wanted to put this question to the test, since I think that many students at UC Davis, myself included, do not really know how to study, and would benefit from knowing the outcome of my study.
First, I had to come up with a good research question. The leading question I chose to base my study off of is “does study music really help students study?”. Through some brainstorming, I came to the conclusion that a survey would be the most effective way of conducting my research. For my primary research, I created a survey where participants would read through an academic paper with various genres of music being played in the background. First, participants read 3-4 pages without any music. Next, with lofi, then with k-pop, and finally with metal. After each song was over/ the participant read through the section, they would answer three questions regarding their focus when listening to music which were 1). How much did you understand?, 2). How much were you able to read?, and 3). How did this genre of music affect your ability to concentrate? As of writing this paper, I got 6 responses.
The sources I found when doing my secondary research were Individual Music Listening in Workplace Settings: An exploratory survey of offices in the UK by Anneli B. Haake, Music and Cognitive Abilities by E. Glenn Schellenberg, and Music, Mental Health, and Immunity by Lavinia Rebecchini. All of these sources explore in detail the extent that music has on humans. With my research, all of these secondary sources have relevance to it.
For my hypothesis, I thought that study music would help participants as they would read through an academic article. This is backed by some UK studies that explained how “paper-and-pencil measures of arousal and mood are not available for children, but the available findings reveal enhanced cognitive performance after listening to music that is thought to be arousing and pleasant for the age group under investigation” (Schellenberg 2). What this means is that different age groups will respond differently to different music. The study found that British teenagers performed better when given a test after listening to a British band called Blur. This was later deemed the “Blur Effect”. This brings forth the idea that everyone is different, especially with what music preferences they have when dealing with tests or other strenuous mental activities.
The first question I asked was “How much did you understand?”. After participants read 3-4 pages of the academic article, this was the first question they answered. This question was to vaguely gauge how invested the participants were with the readings. What I found from this question is that people were most engaged with the reading when no music was playing, with the lofi study music being in second place. “In applied psychology research, music at work has often been conceptualized as background music which may distract task performance” (Haake 3). For this question, this research hypothesis makes sense because the more intense the music got in terms of lyrics and instruments, the less comprehension the participants reported.
Tying into the first question, the second question I asked was “How much were you able to read?”. Following the trend from the previous question, participants showed they were able to read the most when no music was playing. This data shows that reading comprehension is inversely related to the genre of music. I infer this since with no music, all participants read over a page, and as the genres went from lofi to k-pop to metal, more and more participants started to read less of the article. Connecting this question back to the first, it makes sense since if the participants did not know what they were reading, then they would not make it far into the reading either since they most likely were reading back previous paragraphs to get a better understanding of the reading.
In Individual music listening in workplace settings, the article starts off by saying: “historically, Western work songs have helped rhythmic synchronization in physical work tasks and relieved boredom in monotonous jobs (Gregory, 1997; Korczynski, 2003)” (Haake 2). While rhythmic music may aid in physical activities, this is where my research and others diverge. In my survey, the third question I posed was “How did this genre of music affect your ability to concentrate?” 50% of participants found that listening to no music at all while reading an academic article was very helpful and non-distracting. When given other genres of music (lofi, k-pop, and metal), more than 70% of participants said they felt severely distracted by any sort of music, no matter the genre.
Some stated that they preferred classical music, but most agreed that listening to music while having to critically think about the given material was a heavy distraction, since their brain could only focus on one or the other. My thought process is that every song except for the lofi study music had lyrics in it, which is why it may have acted as more of a distraction in comparison to non-lyrical lofi study music or no music at all. One participant stated that “I find music with lyrics distracting as I tend to compete with listening to the lyrics with listening to the words in my head as I am reading” (Garcia). Comparing my results to my hypothesis, it shows that I was wrong when thinking that study music would help participants read better. From my findings, I can say confidently that there is no definite answer to the question “does study music really help?”, since every individual is different in the way that they study or work. If I was to get more participants to take part in my survey or if I switched up the task from reading comprehension to studying for a test, I am sure that my results that I collected would hold up.
As humans, we are very perceptive. We have learned to rely on our senses to gauge events happening around us. This clash with music makes sense since our brains are introduced to a sensory overload, where our ears pickup all the sounds coming from the music and try to also process the words from the reading simultaneously.
In conclusion, my hypothesis that study music would help with reading activities was disproved by my research. Other previous research suggested that there were positive attributes to listening to music while doing certain tasks like working on projects for a job or for stress relief. There were parts where research indicated that music acted more like a distraction, which is what paralleled my findings. My thoughts are that music to all participants acted like a distraction, competing for brain space, that they lost engagement with the readings. Results might have been different had I tested a different question like “how does study music affect actual studying for a test?” or “does study music integrate easily into an academic lifestyle?”. One note to keep in mind for students is that everyone is unique in what helps them study or do academic activities, so it is up to the students to trial and error what works best for them in the context of listening to music.
Haake, Anneli B. “Individual Music Listening in Workplace Settings.” Musicae Scientiae, vol. 15, no. 1, 2011, pp. 107–129., https://doi.org/10.1177/1029864911398065.
Rebecchini, Lavinia. “Music, Mental Health, and Immunity.” Brain, behavior, & immunity. Health 18 (2021): 100374–100374. Web.
Schellenberg, E. Glenn. “Music and Cognitive Abilities.” Current directions in psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society 14.6 (2005): 317–320. Web.