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All About That Ace: Studying to a Beat

Picture this: it is finals week, and you are about to study for that dreaded calculus exam. You lock yourself in the library, put on your favorite music, and get to work. But wait – do your upbeat tunes make studying a little less miserable, or are they actually harming your capacity to learn?

The study, “Can preference for background music mediate the irrelevant sound effect?” 1 demonstrates how music can interfere with student performance on memorization tasks.

Researchers examined the effects of music on studying by asking students to take a memorization test under varying acoustic conditions. Subjects who listened to liked music, disliked music, and varying speech patterns performed lower, on average, than those who studied in silence or under conditions of highly repetitive speech (in this case, repetition of the word “three”).

Still, when asked how they think they performed on tests, students listening to music of their choice indicated that they perceived it as helping them concentrate. On the other hand, those listening to disliked music reported that they performed much worse, even though the study showed that the type of music listened to does not affect learning ability.2

But what is it about music that makes studying difficult? Researchers agree that spoken lyrics are the leading barrier to student performance, especially when reading or studying a language; the part of the brain utilized in learning language is also stimulated by the lyrics to a song. Thus, the brain tries to understand two sources of information simultaneously, and student comprehension suffers. 2

So is Mozart the way to go? The results of studies involving strictly instrumental music and memorization are mixed. The so-called “Mozart Effect” – in which individuals’ spatial reasoning skills were supposedly improved after listening to classical music – has been called into question by follow-up studies. 2 Thus, the effect of vocal-free varying acoustics often comes down to individual preference. Because study results are so inconclusive, students should experiment to see what time of learning environment is best for them. 3

So what’s a girl to do? If studying to a beat is the only way you can make it through a physics problem set then, by all means, put on your headphones and get to work! Otherwise, listening to music before you study is the best way to get through an intense cramming session. Improved memorization and recall has been linked with preference of sound students listened to before executing a task. 2 A quick jam session with your favorite tune may be all it takes to get you ready to tackle your next assignment; just be sure to press pause and find a quiet place to study before you hit the books!

  1. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/acp.1731/full
  2. http://www.edutopia.org/blog/dont-listen-music-while-studying-david-cutler
  3. http://www.phoenix.edu/forward/student-life/2013/08/should-you-listen-to-music-while-studying.html
  4. http://www.pearson.com.au/educator/secondary/browse-resources-online/pearson-science-7-10/series-overview/ (Photo source)
Kim Hochstedler is a freshmen at Carnegie Mellon University studying statistics. When not writing for Her Campus, you can catch Kim at the pool training with the varsity swim team, eating 10,000 calorie meals, or online shopping. If her career aspirations as a tattoo artist don't pan out, Kim hopes to become a pediatric oncologist. You can follow her attempts at photography on Instagram @kimhochstedler or help her become twitter-famous #kimh.
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