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Background music may diminish cognitive performance


For most people, myself included, music is an essential component of their work environment. In my case, specific playlists have been meticulously crafted to listen to while I'm researching and writing stories.

So I was a bit disheartened to read a recent study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology showing background music seems to impair a person's ability to memorize or recall information.

In a small study involving 25 people ages 18 to 30, researchers at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff instructed volunteers to memorize, and later recall, a list of letters in order. Participants were tested in five sound environments: quiet, music that they liked, music that they disliked, a voice speaking random single-digit numbers and a voice repeating the number three. Results showed that individuals performed the worst while listening to music, whether or not they liked the songs playing, and to the voice reciting random numbers.

Lead researcher Nick Perham, PhD, further explained the findings in a release:

The poorer performance of the music and changing-state sounds are due to the acoustical variation within those environments. This impairs the ability to recall the order of items, via rehearsal, within the presented list. Mental arithmetic also requires the ability to retain order information in the short-term via rehearsal, and may be similarly affected by their performance in the presence of changing-state, background environments.

But considering the small sample size and selection of artists played during the study, which ranged from Lady Gaga to the Stranglers, I think I'll wait for more conclusive evidence before forsaking my daily musical routine.

Photo by Cristina L. F.

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