Can music help you focus when you’re at work, or trying to accomplish some other type of task?
Many people think so. Of the total time they spend listening to music, Americans spend 16 percent of that time listening to music at work.1 So whether you listen to music while studying, in the office, or taking care of just about any other kind of task, you’re in good company.
There’s also solid evidence that says even listening to music in the background might help some people focus. Whether it’s instrumental music, ambient sounds, or something else on your playlist, there’s a good chance it will help you stay focused on the task at hand.
Let’s take a look at that evidence. You might just find that music will do more than lift your mood.
Attention And Concentration: Can Music Help You Focus When Studying Or Working?
There is evidence that listening to familiar music is best when you’re trying to focus. If you’re listening to something you’re not used to, on the other hand, that could actually be more of a distraction when it comes to what you’re trying to accomplish.2
Listening to music can also help if you’re trying to complete a repetitive task such as filing documents. One study looked at surgeons who listened to music while performing repetitive, non-surgical laboratory tasks. Researchers found that the surgeons were able to complete these tasks much more accurately and effectively when listening to music.3
Can Listening To Music Have Effects On Your Brain?
Listening to music makes you feel good, right? Well, it turns out there’s a scientific reason this happens. The sound of music can send a signal to the brain to release a chemical known as dopamine. This chemical eases anxiety and stress. In one study, researchers found that patients who listened to music before surgery had lower stress levels than those who took anti-anxiety medications.4
Can Listening To Music Affect Your Ability To Pay Attention?
Researchers also took a look into how music could help stimulate the areas of the brain that make it possible for us to pay attention. This could go a long way in helping with things such as studying for an exam or taking care of an important project at work.
Participants in one study listened to classical music on headphones while inside a noisy magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine. The researchers focused on the way the participants’ brains worked during the transition between movements. In classical music, movements are different segments of an overall piece. In between movements, the music slows down and there’s a brief silence.
During these transitions, researchers found that listening to music can sharpen the brain’s ability to remain attentive. It’s not unlike being at a party and focusing on your conversation even though there is a great deal of noise surrounding you.5
Can Music Affect Creativity Levels?
Can music put you in a more creative mood? Once again, the evidence says “yes.”
Researchers conducting a study found that people who listen to music tend to have more innovative solutions to problems than those who work in silence. They placed participants in five groups and had them listen while they performed tasks designed to test their ability to think creatively.
One group listened to happy music, while the others listened to sad, calm, and anxious music, respectively. The other group performed tasks in silence. According to the results, the group that listened to happy music showed more flexibility in their thinking and found more solutions to their tasks than the other groups.6
Does The Type Of Music Matter?
It appears that the type of situation, as well as the type of music, both play a big role in how much background music can help you keep your focus.
If you’re working on a repetitive task, instrumental music seems to do a great job of increasing concentration. Nature sounds, such as listening to a gentle mountain stream, can help you do a better job of paying attention.7
Classical music has also shown to promote relaxation – even if you’re not paying that close of attention to it. One study involved people who listened to this type of music for an hour a day for six months. Researchers found that the children showed increased levels of relaxation, even though they were specifically asked to focus their attention on something else rather than the music.8
But not all music helps you maintain your focus. Research indicates that listening to upbeat music with lyrics can actually have a negative effect on your ability to pay attention to the task at hand.9
When Is Music A Distraction?
There is some evidence that if you really need to focus your brain on a complicated task, it might be better not to listen to any music at all.
According to the study, however, the music does help provide motivation when you’re taking a break from a challenging task. But if something requires your undivided attention, music might be a distraction.10
Another study backs up that finding. The results showed that listening to music in between tasks could go a long way toward improving productivity. Music might help you to feel relaxed, which then, in turn, might better prepare you for the next project you need to tackle.11
Sounds Like Music To The Ears
So there you have it. The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that music does, in fact, can support a positive food and concentration. So next time you find your mind wandering at work, try listening to some relaxing, happy tunes.
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