Is that stream of noise a help or a hindrance to them while they’re bent over their homework? Tiffany Brown investigates.
Music certainly has the power to uplift our mood and enhance our emotions. In fact, our brains appear to respond in a specialised way when stimulated by musical sounds. Our brains also tend to filter the sounds in our environment on two levels, in sort of a conscious and a subconscious way. While the conscious brain engages with the task at hand, the subconscious level is the part of our mind that may wander, interfering with our concentration.
For example, in a very quiet environment, the subconscious layer of the mind may grab on to something distracting or irritating, such as the drone of a lawnmower, the clang of roadworks in the distance, or even a person having a loud conversation. This may be especially true when a student is struggling to remain engaged with their task, ie the subjects they find “boring” or “too hard”. When that particular sound seems to magnify, the resulting blur on our concentration can seriously impact our ability to study.
Cue music. By providing a distracting background that masks these other sounds, the right kind of music may help to focus the conscious mind, sharpening and improving concentration, and therefore potentially providing more successful study outcomes. So listening to music may have a beneficial effect on studying, but there are some other key considerations.
The moody blues
Music genre is also important. Sad, happy, moody, or angry music may all provoke similar emotions in the listener, while music the student finds uplifting may help in cases where there is any stress attached to the work by inspiring and motivating them to get through it. It is possible that the more difficult a subject is for a student, the more helpful background music may be to hone their concentration. Classical music provides a soothing backing track, and this phenomenon, sometimes referred to as the Mozart Effect, has been studied fairly extensively, although is still the subject of debate.
Research indicates music to enhance study should preferably be instrumental. Lyrics can distract, tempting that subconscious layer onto unrelated thought paths.
All in good context
Students may be likely to have better recall in a similar environment to the one in which the information was originally learned. So if your student is hitting the books while listening to music, they’ll then potentially find it easier to recall their study when background music is playing.
A video game soundtrack may be the ideal music to listen to while studying. The producers of this kind of music are heavily invested in hitting just the right balance of immersive, engaging music with minimum distraction, to keep players plugged in. If you’re struggling to get your teen off the games and onto the books, perhaps lining up a game soundtrack for them could be an appealing compromise.