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Isabel Rommel

UWRT 1104-027

Malcolm Campbell

May 2April 8, 2017

Can Listening to Music While Studying Prevent You from Actually Learning?

Be honest; how often do you listen to music while doing your work? Whether your It

doesnt matter if your work consists of reading a few chapters of a book for an English class,

doing worksheets for math, reviewing flashcards for science, or writing a paper for history., and

whether you choose to listen to rap, hip hop, classical, or those iconic throwback songs from the

early 2000s (schoolwork is torture enough, please dont do this to yourself) is irrelevant for

now., I would bet quite a bit that you especially if youre a member of the younger generations

you listen to music quite often while doing your work. What most people (mostly of the older

generations) wonder is how this habit affects your ability to get work done, absorb material, and

actually learn whatever it is youre supposed to be learning.

In middle and high school, I always went straight to my room when I got home and

turned on music whether just on my computer speakers or on my phone using earbuds as I

started on my homework. My mom would then proceed to come into my room about half an hour

later and tell me to turn off my music so I could do my homework and study, and as soon as I

would say that I was in fact doing my homework, she would still tell me to turn off the music, as

it was distracting and I wasnt really getting any work done. I either went to turn turned the

music off and promptly got distracted by the notifications that had popped up on my phone or

laptop and didnt get any work done for the next hour, or just reached to turn the volume down
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without ever having open up my phone or computer and kept working, just with the volume low

enough that my mom couldnt hear it.

Growing up with the technology that allowed me and the rest of my generation to do

work in this kind of environment has made us comfortable with the habit, but Ive always

wondered if my mom had a point that I just chose to ignore. Could listening to music while

studying actually be preventing me from learning? Or was there truth to theories such as the

Mozart effect, which basically states that listening to classical music can stimulate your brain

and help you get more work done better and faster? Is there a 100% undeniable, applies-to-

everyone answer to this question, or does it depend on the person/, subject matter/, music genre,

etc?/whatever other circumstance that could have an effect? With this paper, I intend to find out

if listening to music has a positive, or negative, (or neutral) effect on a persons ability to learn,

and then argue whether or not I think its worth it to listen to the experts and the science.

In the last fifty years, numerous studies have been conducted to test various aspects of the

effects of listening to music while trying to learn. One of the most well-known studies is one

conducted in 2010 by Nick Perham and Joanne Vizard. Twenty-five South Wales University

undergraduates ages eighteen to thirty were asked to memorize a series of pairs of consonant

letters in different conditions and then tested to see how many of the pairs they could recall in the

order they appeared (Perham). There were five sound conditions. The first was were silence.,

The second was what is referred to as steady-state speech, which just means that the same word

(in this case the number three) is repeated at constant time intervals., The third was changing-

state speech (in this case, randomized digits one through nine repeated at constant time

intervals)., The last two were music the individual said they liked that they chose themselves,

and music the individual said they didnt like (Perham). The results were as Perham and Vizard
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expectedpredicted: those who worked in silence did better on the test than any others, followed

in order by constant-state speech, changing-state speech, liked music, and disliked music.

Ultimately their results indicate that quiet conditions are the most effective, followed closely by

constant-state speech, while both are better than changing-state speech and far better than music

of any kind (Perham). The likeability, distractibility, offensiveness, and pleasantness of the

conditions were rated by each individual, and the average scores for each category and

conditions are as follows in the figure:

The likeability of both the liked music was more than triple the ratings of steady- and changing-

state speech and disliked music, while quiet was more than double any of the ratings for the

three, meaning people enjoy either the quiet or listening to their preferred music best. The

distractibility of quiet was less than half the rating of any other condition, which says that its far

easier to be distracted by any kind of noise or sound as opposed to quiet. For offensiveness,

disliked was far greater than any other, followed by similarly-ranked states of speech, then quiet

and liked music, indicating that while silence may be best overall, youre less disturbed by liked

music than anything else. Pleasantness had a similar trend, with disliked music being the least,

then states of speech, more than doubling that score for quiet, and quadrupling it for liked music

(Perham). Ultimately, Perhams discussion of the results suggests that sounds in general and
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music specifically inhibit ones ability to learn to their full potential and, while its okay to listen

to music before studying to build up energy and a good mood, working and learning should be

done in silence.

In 1997, Adrian Furnham and Anna Bradley from University College London tested

analyzed the effects of background music on the test results of introverts versus extroverts. Their

initial curiosity came from a study done in the 1960s that showed that much depended on the

type of music, as well as the particular task performed, (Furnham). Eighty-eight undergraduate

students completed a personality test to determine whether they were introverts or extroverts and

the twenty (ten introverts and ten extroverts) with the most extreme high and low scores for

extroversion were given a test to determine levels of intelligence before the experiment to

compare with the results (Furnham). Then they were given a passages-and-multiple-choice

reading comprehension test, a memory test (shown pictures of objects for a set amount of time

and asked to name them from memory later), a basic math test this was intended to break the

participants trains of thought for about the objects in the memory test and the results

werentwasnt included in the test results of the study , and then the memory test again, with

half the group working in silence and the other half listening to three pop songs on a loop until

they completed the tasks (about 20 minutes) (Furnham). The results are shown in the table

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For introverts, the average scores for the first memory test with and without music were

generally the same, while the scores for the delayed memory test were almost the same without

music but had a four-point drop from the first test. The reading comprehension test showed about

a three-point difference between the music versus no music scores. The results for extroverts

were quite different though: the scores for both memory tests were higher with music than

without music and stayed the same from the initial to the delayed test, and the scores for the

reading comprehension test were only 0.4 points higher for no music than with music (Furnham).

Generally, this study shows that whether or not music helps you study and learn depends on your

personality type and study preferences, as extroverts said they were less distracted by the music

than introverts were and they chose to listen to music while working more often, and therefore

were more used to it (Furnham).

Many other studies have been performed throughout the last seventy years to determine if

theres a definitive answer to the question of how music affects ones studying. In 1998, Tracey

Cockerton, Simon Moore, and Dale Norman of Middlesex University found when testing thirty

undergraduate students on two cognitive tests one done in silence, the other with background

music that the test results of the one with music were better than the one without: more
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questions were answered and answered correctly. Another study done by Carol Smith and Larry

Morris in 1976 showed that for all of sixty-six students, a multiple-choice test completed in

stimulating music conditions versus sedative music conditions versus silence showed that

stimulating music decreased levels of anxiety while the other two conditions did not and that the

test results were not affected by whether the student listened to music or not (Smith). Mike

Manthei and Steven N. Kelly conducted a study in which students were given three math tests,

each under a different condition: with classical music playing, with pop music playing, and in

silence. The results of their study showed that while students generally did better with pop music

playing, followed by silence, then classical music, the differences between the average scores

were so small that music genre could generally be discounted as being influential (Manthei).

While all of these studies have been testing the same scenarios and ideas to answer

basically the same question, they all came up with very different answers. Perhams study may

be the most popular and accepted study because it was conducted more recently than any others,

but most studies showed that if there was a difference in test scores between those who listened

to music and those who didnt, it wasnt massively drastic. The most noticeable point in all of

these studies, from my perspective, was the Furnham and Bradley study that showed the

differences in results for the two personality types, which shows that listening to music will have

different effects from person to person.

Scientists and experts are not the only people who have thoughts on the matter,

however. Many will argue that one should not listen to music while studying. An article by CNN

journalist Elizabeth Landau discusses Perhams study, stating that his results indicate that one

should not listen to music while doing work, but also admits that the study only covered a very

small part of the population and that more research would have to be done to get a better idea of
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how music really affects peoples study habits. David Cutler, a high school teacher and author of

the edutopia article Dont Listen to Music While Studying, says that many of his students are

adamant about listening to music while studying, their reasons being that it helps them focus and

stay relaxed and that even he himself used to listen to music while doing his schoolwork in

college. He didnt even consider it could have an effect on his learning until reading Perhams

work and interviewing him, discovering and firmly believing that one should not listen to music

at all while doing work (Cutler). When Cutler presented his findings to his students, many of

them refused to stop listening to music while working. Cutler decided to run his own little

experiment on the matter, choosing to write this article in silence rather than playing the more

relaxed music he usually listens to while working and claims he finished the piece in about half

the time it would usually take him to finish a similar article.

Others argue that while music may not have the best effects on your learning, its not

horrible. Sofia Castello y Tickell in her article for USA Today iterates the results of a study done

by Stanford Universitys Clifford Nass, who says Music with lyrics is very likely to have a

problematic effect when youre writing or reading,, Probably less of an effect on math, if

youre not using the language parts of your brain. Nass later says as well that if youre not

feeling calm, youre less likely to learn effectively so relaxing music can be helpful in terms of

getting your mind to a more relaxed state to help you study. The article also discusses the work

of Glenn Schellenberg, who says that music that is very stimulating and loud can decrease

reading comprehension levels, but still advocates that being in a better mood and mind state is

more likely to make your studying productive than doing so while bored or unrelaxed (Castello).

Generally, the article says just to be very selective about what music you listen to while studying

or before studying to be sure that you get the most positive effects and results possible from your
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study sessions, even though even the wrong kind of music is significantly less distracting than

social media and texting (Castello). Elana Goodwin has a similar opinion, discussing in her

article the Mozart effect which says that listening to classical music helps memory and the

results of both Perhams and Nasss studies, but ultimately saying that it depends upon the

person, what they prefer in terms of their studying habits, how easily distracted they are by the

music, and, if they choose to listen to music, what genres of music they listen to while studying.

Laura Rosenfelds article Does music help you focus? Yes, but only if you like the music

discusses a study that was performed jointly by the Wake Forest School of Medicine and the

University of North Carolina at Greensboro, of which the results showed that preferred music

triggered an area of the brain known as the default mode network, which allows one to focus less

on the music they hear that they relate significantly to and more on whatever task is in front of

them. Rosenfeld goes on to discuss the possible benefits of listening to music for people with

neurological disorders who would be calmed and more focused by listening to music they

enjoyed and how a better mood and higher level of focus would be beneficial for all students.

All of these studies and articles have varying results and say different things so theres no

definitive answer as to whether or not music helps one study and learn. Personally, Ive listened

to music while doing schoolwork since my mom bought me an MP3 player when I was in sixth

grade and I got all As throughout middle school and only got four Bs and a single C throughout

high school , with the exception of a single C that I blame entirely on a terrible Calculus teacher.

(I blame that on English teachers refusing to give me one extra point to make it an A because

they knew I wrote all my papers the day before and an absolutely terrible calculus teacher). I

tend to get distracted by my surroundings when I dont have anything to consistently block out

sound: people talking, cars driving by, generally any noise aside from near silence. While music
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is far from silent, for me, it blocks out other distractions I would be much more susceptible to

noticing without it. I have friends though that massively disagree though, saying they get way

too distracted by the music and have tomust have it completely silent while working or its just

pointless to try to get anything done. With this project specifically, I noticed no difference in

how productive I was or the quality of my work whether I was listening to music or not. I usually

listened to Death Cab for Cutie or Kings of Leon, which both have more of a relaxed sound, and

I listened to music both while reading articles and studies in the research portion and while


In the end, while Perhams study shows that there is a negative effect of listening to

music while working, I still think it depends massively on the tasks you are trying to do, whether

or not you like the music you are listening to, the genre of the music, and especially what your

study preferences are. If you work and learn better while listening to Justin Bieber or Mozart or

The Killers or U2, then by all means do so, but if you feel like a quiet empty room in your house

or the library is the best setting for you, then do what works best for you. All of these graphs

with statistics and numbers and trends shouldnt tell you what to do, they should only inform you

of your options and what might work for you. Everyone should still make their own choices on

the matter. Scientists are always changing their minds about what works best and what people

need to be doing to help themselves. Until someone comes along to conduct a study that includes

enough of the population that the results can be assumed true for every person on the planet, and

the results are so consistent that they dont vary at all no matter how many times you run the

experiment, the discussion will continue and people will have different opinions. Perhams study

was conducted more recently than any other, but as technology advances and while education
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continues to be involved in discussions of society, the effects of music on learning will continue

to be researched. Until then, keep learning however you learn best.

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Works Cited

Castello y Tickell, Sofia. Should you listen to music while you study? USA Today. Gannett

Satellite Information Network, 16 July 2014. Web. 27 March 2017.


Cockerton, Tracey, Simon Moore, and Dale Norman. Cognitive Test Performance and

Background Music. Sage Journals Perceptual and Motor Skills, vol. 85, no. 3, 1997.

DOI: 10.2466/pms.1997.85.3f.1435.

Cutler, David. "Don't Listen to Music While Studying." Edutopia. N.p., 04 Dec. 2013. Web. 27

March 2017. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/dont-listen-music-while-studying-david-


Furnham, Adrian and Anna Bradley. Music While You Work: The Differential Distraction of

Background Music on the Cognitive Test Performance of Introverts and Extraverts.

Applied Cognitive Psychology, vol. 11, no. 5, 1997, pp. 445-455. DOI:


Goodwin, Elana. "Do Or Don't: Studying While Listening To Music." Uloop. N.p., 31 Jan. 2015.

Web. 29 March 2017. https://www.uloop.com/news/view.php/149570/Do-Or-Dont-


Landau, Elizabeth. Music May Harm Your Studying, Study Says. CNN. Cable News Network,

27 July 2010. Web. 27 March 2017. http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2010/07/27/music-

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Manthei, Mike, and Steven N. Kelly. "Effects of Popular and Classical Background Music on the

Math Test Scores of Undergraduate Students." N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2017.


Perham, Nick and Joanne Vizard. Can Preference for Background Music Mediate the Irrelevant

Sound Effect? Applied Cognitive Psychology, vol. 25, no. 4, 2011, pp. 625-631. DOI:


Rosenfeld, Laura. "Does music help you focus? Yes, but only if you like the music." Tech

Times. N.p., 30 Aug. 2014. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.



Smith, Carol A. and Larry W. Morris. Effects of Stimulative Music and Sedative Music on

Cognitive and Emotional Components of Anxiety. Sage Journals Psychological

Reports, vol. 38, no. 3, 1976. DOI: 10.2466/pr0.1976.38.3c.1187.