Do Or Don't: Studying While Listening To Music

By Elana Goodwin on January 31, 2015
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Second semester is well underway, which means midterms and other tests are looming ahead in the not-too-distant future and that it’s time to once again question how studying while listening to music can affect a student’s studying efficiency.

Researchers and college students have often wondered whether listening to music has negative or positive effects on the student’s studying habits and whether studying while listening to music is a “do” or “don’t.”

Photo Credit: unistudentlife.co.uk

Studies have shown that listening to music before studying or performing a task can be beneficial as it improves attention, memory, and even your ability to do mental math as well as helping lessen depression and anxiety.

Many researchers, as well as students, who think listening to music helps memory have called the practice the “Mozart Effect.” Of course, nowadays many students are not actually listening to Mozart, but pop or other music, so the effect may not be the same.

These studies and researchers seem to indicate that music can actually help you study and those who listen to music while studying may actually be better off for it.

However, there have also been several studies that have shown that music can actually have negative impacts on your studying effectiveness — particularly when it comes to memorizing something in order.

Dr. Nick Perham’s 2010 study, “Can preference for background music mediate the irrelevant sound effect,” explored how music can interfere with short-term memory potential.

“We found that listening to liked or disliked music was exactly the same, and both were worse than the quiet control condition,” Perham discovered. ”Both impaired performance on serial-recall tasks.”

Listening to music may diminish your cognitive abilities in these situations because when you’re trying to memorize things in order, you can get thrown off and confused by the various words and notes in the song playing in the background, Perham theorized.

Stanford University professor Clifford Nass had similar thoughts.

“Music with lyrics is very likely to have a problematic effect when you’re writing or reading. Probably less of an effect on math, if you’re not using the language parts of your brain,” Nass said. “In my day, there was no way you could take music to the library. When [today's students] go to the library to study, they bring their noise, and music, with them.”

Photo Credit: www.cmuse.org

Today, it’s easier than ever to bring your music with you wherever you go as music has become inherently portable. We listen to music while we walk, cook, drive — when we want to feel happy or relaxed. Music has become a fundamental part of our lives, which is why students are so eager to know whether it will negatively or positively impact their studying.

Because music can impact and regulate your mood and the best mood to study in is a more relaxed mood, choosing music that helps you relax but also with enough beat or rhythm to ensure you don’t zone out while studying is crucial. But music that’s too loud or with too much of an upbeat tempo can also be distracting, so having a playlist or specific artist you turn to for studying music can really help.

If you’re the type of person who has more difficulty multitasking and is easily distracted, listening to music while studying may just cause your attention to drift to the music rather than help you concentrate on your material.

If you’re really set on listening to music while studying but know your focus will probably end up divided, choose classical music or more acoustic music with minimal words to distract you. Movie scores, which typically consist of a bunch of orchestral pieces, may also be good background music for you to study to.

So basically, the final decision about studying while listening to music is up to you — do you feel you concentrate better with Taylor Swift or Hozier singing in the background? Or do you find yourself thinking of the lyrics to the song rather than what you’re supposed to be studying?

Music’s effects on study habits will vary from person to person, and can also be affected by what you’re listening to — the genre of the music, how loud it is, etc.

Personally, when I need some background music to study to, I’ll usually make a more acoustic playlist consisting of songs by Joshua Radin, Cary Brothers, and Ed Sheeran, with some of The Fray and Goo Goo Dolls thrown in, too.

But in order for you to study the most productively, you need to figure out the effect music has on your studying ability, and then tailor your studying playlist — be it silence or music — to best suit your needs and efficiency.

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By Elana Goodwin

Uloop Writer
I love reading, writing, and sweater weather. Also, dogs. That is all. Follow me on Twitter at @EllaRayy!

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