Imagine this; it’s 6 P.M. on a Monday night. Tomorrow, you have 3 midterms: Math, English, and Chemistry. You aim to get at least 7 hours of sleep, which means you aim for a bedtime of 10 P.M. Now the question is, how do you maximize your productivity to cram 3 subject midterms in 4 hours? As you open your bookmarked websites for studying, you scroll past Spotify. To listen to music, or not to listen?
The effects of listening to music while studying have been widely studied and debated, yet we still don’t have a clear-cut, scientific answer. Proponents of studying music claim that it is soothing, relaxing, and helps with anxiety. Critics of it say that music is distracting and ultimately has a detrimental effect on studying and information retention. Before we dive in, there is an important misconception that needs to be clarified: listening to music does not make studying more effective whatsoever. The so-called “Mozart Effect”, which states that listening to classical music (like that of Mozart) makes you smarter, has been widely debunked.
Although the answer is unclear, scientists have largely agreed that this is a personal question. Whether it is beneficial, depends heavily on the specifics of the situation. There are three main points of consideration: type of work, type of music, and your personality type.
Type of Work
Perhaps the best indicator of the effect music has on studying is the type of work you are doing. While performing tasks such as reading comprehension or writing essays, studies have shown that music has a mostly negative effect. Personally, my experience has for the most part been the same. When I’m trying to write or edit an essay, I get distracted and irritated when listening to music. However, when it comes to math and sciences, studies showed mixed results, both positive and negative. Personally, I find that listening to music has a generally positive effect when doing STEM-related work. I am able to get into a rhythm and knock out problems very quickly. The results of studies make a lot of sense. When you’re writing an essay, some amount of creativity is required; you must be consciously thinking about what words to type next. However when it comes to doing math or physics practice problems, it’s very easy just to mindlessly plug in formulas and solve, which is where music plays a big role in keeping the experience positive and keeping you from drifting off to do other things.
Type of Music
Unsurprisingly, the type of music you listen to also has a significant effect on your efficiency and concentration levels. There is clear evidence that listening to music with vocals decreases your concentration and thus your efficiency. This is logical, because when you are listening to vocals, your brain has to allocate energy to interpret them, thus losing concentration. Studies have also shown that listening to loud and irritating music even without vocals can be distracting. Personally, I like to listen to classical or lofi music when studying. I find that it isn’t distracting or intrusive while I’m trying to focus. Instead, it gives me a calming feeling and reduces my stress and anxiety significantly.
Ultimately, it all comes down to personality. If you like music, it’s effects will be much more significant in all fields of your studying, even in those of writing and reading comprehension. If not, listening to music while doing any type of work or studying can feel intrusive and unpleasant. An interesting study showed that the effectiveness of music can be determined based off of differences between introverts and extroverts. According to Eysenck’s Theory of Cortical Arousal States, introverts are more likely to have a negative effect listening to music because their minds are already overstimulated and should avoid increased stimulation via music. On the other hand, extroverts should lean towards adding music into their study sessions because their brains are under-stimulated and should be aroused more. Personally, being an introvert, I can say that this theory is inconclusive at best.
Of course, it’s best to take all of this with a grain of salt. Many studies contradict each other and lack the proper sample size to draw conclusive evidence. Mainly, it is up to you to decide if you want to listen to music while studying. Everyone responds to music differently. The best way to see if music works for you is to experiment yourself. Apply different types of music to different subjects and see what works! It’s only a matter of trial and error.
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