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Effects Of Listening To Music While Doing Homework

Listening to Music While Studying: Good Motivator or Just a Distraction?

Most students listen to music while studying.  With either iPod in ears, iTunes through the computer or even “old fashioned” DVD player going, students across Australia tonight are listening to anything from Beyonce to Good Charlotte to LMFAO (don’t ask) while they do their homework. And inevitably parents in these houses walk past, wondering: “can they really concentrate with that going on in their ears?”

The truth is that there are significant advantages of listening to music while studying

First, most students say listening to music helps them study for longer.  This makes sense: homework can be boring. If something can make it slightly less boring, students are slightly more likely to keep doing it for longer.  Advantage number two:  listening to music has been found to be LESS distracting than listening to random office/household noise.  So if the noise of the house is high, then having music to block that out can help students concentrate.  Finally:  research shows music usually puts students in a better mood.  This is helpful because the better mood we are in, the longer we persist on hard tasks and the better we do at difficult tasks:  good news for students.

So with all of that, what’s the problem with listening to music while studying?  

Research shows that compared to being in complete silence, people are less able to do difficult tasks while listening to music.  Almost every study in this area shows that if you give people a problem solving task and then compare people who do it in silence compared to people doing in while listening to music, those working in silence do the task better and quicker than those listening to music.  It seems that music interferes with our attention and cognitive skills.  This is especially true for music with lyrics, music that is unpredictable and interestingly, it is also especially distracting for introverts compared to extroverts.

So there are upsides, and downsides. Here are the recommendations I give students about this issue:

Listen to music when you feel like you really “have to” – when you are bored, in a bad mood or are tempted to prematurely stop (or can’t start) homework.

Listen to music if your house/study environment is quite noisy and you can’t shut out this (usually unpredictable) noise any other way.

BUT recognise that you will not be doing your absolutely best work when listening to music.  Therefore try to do three things:

  1. Turn the music off when you are doing something quite hard (e.g revising for a test or trying to understand difficult concepts)
  2. Listen to music without lyrics if you can (e.g classical, electronica), music that has a predictable beat/tune or music that is very familiar to you
  3. Turn the music down a couple of notches compared to the volume you listen to it normally

I hope this helps. Like most issues, it's not black and white - but these recommendations can help parents and teens find some constructive middle ground.

If your teen would like some one on one study skills coaching, or help with dealing with a stressful issues then you can find out about appointments via clicking here to go to the counselling info page.  Please note, that if your teen does not want to attend sessions but as a parent you would like some ideas in responding to and supporting your teen, we see parents on their own frequently for sessions also.

Music is an indispensable part of our life and you will hardly meet a person who doesn’t like listening to it. Of course, it can be a music of different genres, with or without lyrics, modern or classical, but people enjoy listening to music and can combine a variety of activities with it.

Young generations are also fans of music and every second student has always his headphones. Students listen to music everywhere: on-the-go, in public transport, in the shower and even when they do their homework. However, the last habit is quite controversial as scientists have different opinions about the effect music produces on studying. Let’s analyze the viewpoints of different scholars and decide whether pros or cons of listening to music while you do your homework will outweigh.

How can music be beneficial?

It is not surprising to see different studies about the influence of music on learning and their results are sometimes opposite to each other. Some scientists claim that music can influence the brain work positively as well as provide a learner with some huge advantages including:

  1. Improvement in attention, memory and the brain workElana Goodwin, a representative of the University of Wales, makes a conclusion in her study that music improves memory, attention, can have a beneficial impact on math solutions and even eases the depression and anxiety.However, the results of the experiment on the topic how music affects test scores are quite controversial, as the average test score of students who listened to the music during the test were lower and with great variations. As a result, researchers made a conclusion that only some people will feel a positive effect of music while the others will consider it a distraction. At the same time, there is no explanation about the influence of genres, tempo, style of music so additional research is a necessity.
    One more interesting viewpoint is offered by Don Campbell in his book “The Mozart Effect”. He points out that music improves performance and productivity by reducing stress, tension and hiding irritating sounds in the workplace. The same can be said about studying that can also be influenced by noise or any stressful situations.Anne Blood, a neuroscientist at Montreal McGill University confirms the fact that depending on the style of music you prefer, you can activate different brain parts.
  2. Useful for creative and reflection activitiesThe study done at John Hopkin’s University confirms the viewpoint that music can be a great boost in writing, brainstorming, project work, problem-solving activities. It can improve productivity as well as be a perfect solution for several minutes of rest to recharge for the next activity.
  3. Instrumental music is a miracleWho has not heard about a genius pianist Mozart? But not everyone is aware of the psychological term known as “the Mozart’s Effect”. Classical music has always regarded to be something mysterious and even today many studies confirm the unbelievable benefit from listening to it. No wonder that many mothers switch on the classical music to their infants as there is a proof that it makes a positive impact on mental development. We can see that in books, textbooks in child psychology, studies of Stanford University, California where a beneficial impact of music was checked on animals and conclusions of University of California, Irvine, that mention improvements in various activities including even IQ test results.

Negative impact of music on doing homework

At the same time, many students still call music a distraction. Why does it happen? The answer is simple, students speak about absolutely different styles of music.

It goes without saying that listening to the song with words you will be more likely to distract from studying by repeating the words of the singer. This fact was confirmed by the University of Phoenix where researchers have proved that lyrics activates language-processing centers of the brain and that results in a lack of concentration and difficulties to recall the memorized information.

The last fact was described in the book “Educational Psychology”. Context-dependent learning means that people will recall information better in the same environment how they were memorizing it. If it was a music background at home, there are few chances that this background will be at school too, so information recalling will suffer greatly as well.

One more apparent point is a huge difference in people’s learning styles. Some people will have a much better productivity studying in silence, the others chewing a burger and one more group watching a TV. Music can be beneficial only to some of the students as any sound can affect the performance of others negatively. Consequently, it is impossible to make the only right conclusion about the ultimate benefit or the toughest negative impact of music on student’s performance of the home assignment. The only conclusion is apparent: everything depends on the person and his study environment.


Also published on Medium.

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