Studying with Relaxing Music: Does it Help?

Long study sessions are an unfortunate, but regular part of student life. Some of us need a little help focusing while we read or write, by listening to some lo-fi or jazz music. However, it is a debated if this actually helps or hurts students’ cognitive performance. For example, some studies have shown it increases focus but has a negative impact on text comprehension. Researchers hoped to add more to the literature by comparing different types “relaxing background music” and their effect on physiological activity and cognitive processing.

The study consisted of 108 participants who were each assigned to one of 4 conditions: piano music, jazz music, lo-fi music, or no music. They were measured on their attention, mind wandering, and their heart rate variability over the course of three days. It should be noted that their “acute attention”, was measured while listening to music, and their mind wandering was measured after listening. On the first day of the study baselines measurements were taken of the participants. The following two days, they were asked to listen to the music for either 15 or 45 minutes. Participants were then asked to listen to the music at least 10 times over the course of the next three weeks, then were asked to comeback and complete one more 15 min session.

Researchers found that compared to the no music group, those who listed to music showed higher performance and an increase in performance over the full study. Those in the music group also showed higher heart rate variability.  A higher hear rate variability is a sign that your body is performing at its best. Lastly, those in the music group also had a faster reaction time in the 3 week follow up, not seen in the no music group.

The study did have limitations. There was no active control group, using something like metal, hip-hop, or EDM along with a no music control to show if the type of music made a difference.

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