Does music facilitate or impair cognitive task performance? It depends…


Does Music Boost Your Cog­ni­tive Per­for­mance? (Sci­en­tif­ic American):

Music makes life bet­ter in so many ways. It ele­vates mood, reduces stress and eas­es pain. Music is heart-healthy, because it can low­er blood pres­sure, reduce heart rate and decrease stress hor­mones in the blood. It also con­nects us with oth­ers and enhances social bonds. Music can even improve work­out endurance and increase our enjoy­ment of chal­leng­ing activ­i­ties … But is lis­ten­ing to music the smart choice for stu­dents who want to opti­mize their learning?

A new study by Manuel Gon­za­lez of Baruch Col­lege and John Aiel­lo of Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty sug­gests that for some stu­dents, lis­ten­ing to music is indeed a wise strat­e­gy, but for oth­ers, it is not. The effect of music on cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing appears not to be “one-size-fits-all” but to instead depend, in part, on your personality—specifically, on your need for exter­nal stim­u­la­tion. Peo­ple with a high require­ment for such stim­u­la­tion tend to get bored eas­i­ly and to seek out exter­nal input. Those indi­vid­u­als often do worse, para­dox­i­cal­ly, when lis­ten­ing to music while engag­ing in a men­tal task. Peo­ple with a low need for exter­nal stim­u­la­tion, on the oth­er hand, tend to improve their men­tal per­for­mance with music … Before stu­dents decide to slip in their ear­buds, though, they should care­ful­ly con­sid­er both their musi­cal selec­tion and the nature of the task.”

The Study:

More than meets the ear: Inves­ti­gat­ing how music affects cog­ni­tive task per­for­mance (Jour­nal of Exper­i­men­tal Psy­chol­o­gy: Applied)

  • From the abstract: Researchers have doc­u­ment­ed var­i­ous (some­times con­flict­ing) effects of music on cog­ni­tive task per­for­mance, and have high­light­ed sev­er­al mech­a­nisms through which these effects may occur (e.g., arousal, mood, atten­tion). To fur­ther under­stand these effects, we con­sid­er inter­ac­tions between music-based, task-based, and per­former-based char­ac­ter­is­tics. Specif­i­cal­ly, we drew from the dis­trac­tion-con­flict the­o­ry of social facil­i­ta­tion and research on bore­dom prone­ness to hypoth­e­size that music—along with its com­plex­i­ty and volume—facilitates sim­ple task per­for­mance and impairs com­plex task per­for­mance, and that one’s pref­er­ence for exter­nal stim­u­la­tion (a dimen­sion of bore­dom prone­ness) mod­er­ates these effects. We test­ed our hypothe­ses in a lab­o­ra­to­ry exper­i­ment, in which par­tic­i­pants com­plet­ed cog­ni­tive tasks either in silence or with music of vary­ing com­plex­i­ty and vol­ume. We found that (1) music gen­er­al­ly impaired com­plex task per­for­mance, (2) com­plex music facil­i­tat­ed sim­ple task per­for­mance, and (3) pref­er­ence for exter­nal stim­u­la­tion mod­er­at­ed these effects. There­fore, the data sug­gest that music’s effects on task per­for­mance depend on the music, the task, and the per­former [empha­sis added]. 

The Study in Context:

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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