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Can Students Listen to Music While Studying?

Gigi Shirazi, Staff Writer

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Have you ever wondered how listening to music while studying affects  individual’s studies? Listening to music may increase energy levels and lift one’s mood, thereby improving mental processing abilities. But at the same time, the brain must still set aside some resources to digesting the music, taking focus away from the academic task.

What type of music is best to listen to while studying? Instrumental music tends to allow the brain to focus best on the task, whereas if it’s a song with lyrics in it, then the individual is more likely to get distracted, according to gradeslam.org.

It also depends on the features and complexity of the task the individual is doing. Music interferes with many parts of the brain such as the hippocampus and lowest parts of the frontal lobe; therefore if the task someone is doing requires them to rely on those parts of the brain (a task such as reading or writing), then one shouldn’t listen to music of any kind while completing the task.

Recently, many Mayfield staff members took a survey on how they feel about students listening to music while doing classwork and the results were quite interesting. 44% of the teachers surveyed said yes, students can focus on the work they are supposed to do while listening to music. 16% said no, and 40% said it depends on the task the students are doing and the type of music the students are listening to.

When asked how music impacts students’ grade, Mr. Carlson stated, “It’s complicated. If a student can only focus on his/her work while listening to music, then music will help that student’s grade. But music might be a distraction and lead to students thinking they learned something when they actually just looked at it without absorbing it.” Many staff members stated that the students should only listen to music if they fully understand the task they are doing.

Similarly to the staff members, the students took the same survey. When the students were asked if they could focus on their work while listening to music, 82% said yes, 5% said no, and 13% said it depends on the type of music and the task.

Students were asked to check off subjects/tasks they think they could perform well while listening to music, and 76% of the students answered math. Far fewer, only 50%, thought they could read well  while listening to music.

To check the accuracy of the students’ hypotheses, two students participated in an experiment to see if students could do as well while listening to music. Dale Perazzola and Nick Graziano took two math tests of comparable complexity. While listening to music, Dale took 26 seconds longer and missed 12% more questions. Nick took 2 seconds longer and missed 6% more questions.  This experiment suggests that music has varying impacts depending on the individual but does in fact impact a person’s ability to focus on a task.

A 1997 study by Furnham & Bradley (1997) had similar findings.  For all individuals studied, immediate memory recall was worse when pop music was played than when it was silent.  A later study in 2002  (Furnham & Strbac),  looked at the effects on comprehension tasks with music as background noise.  In that task, again, music negatively impacted all performance, but interestingly, extraverts outperformed introverts. Extraverts can tolerate more external stimulus than introverts.  This study confirms what most of the MMS teachers believed–that music impacts some students more negatively than others.

Furnham’s studies concluded that performance was always best in the silent condition and was the worst when the music played was familiar to or well-liked by the person.

In conclusion, music does affect an individual’s accuracy and speed while studying. Be advised; listen to music during your studies at your own risk.

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Can Students Listen to Music While Studying?