Science Questions

Is it good to listen to music and revise?

Mon, 20th Apr 2015

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Could Earth be Knocked Out of Orbit?


Nick Watts asked:

I was watching my daughter doing some revision whilst she was listening to music at the same time, via headphones.

It occurred to me that maybe she shouldn't do both as maybe the brain would be concentrating more on the music, which she likes, than the subject she was revising, which she doesn't like. Is there any scientific back up for this thought?


We put Nick's question to Naked Scientist Ginny Smith...Headphones

Ginny - Well, the studies are quite mixed on this and it depends a lot of what kind of music it is, what kind of person his daughter is, and what sheís studying. So, there's a lot of evidence that listening to some musicÖ

Chris - So, what you're saying, if she studies music. Itís quite important to be able to listen to music.

Ginny - Well, yes for a start. There's something called the ďMozart effectĒ where the original finding was that listening to some Mozart before you did a task boosted performance on that task. Its now been debunked.

Itís not just Mozart. It works with pop music, rock music, pretty much anything. Basically, listening to some music gets you hyped up. It puts you in the right mindset to do lots of different tasks and can help with concentration, memory, all sorts of things.

But thatís having it on before you start studying. When theyíve tested out people studying, doing memory tests with music on, most of the time, it does cause detrimental effects to their performance. Sometimes they even found that itís worse when you like the music.

But as I say, it does vary from music to music. So, music with lyrics we think is a lot worse than music without lyrics because your brain is kind of getting distracted by the words, trying to follow along with them. And therefore, not concentrating on what you're reading.

Kat - I have to say, I've just been working on writing a book and Iíve had this playlist thatís kind of very minimalist electronic music. Itís basically just repetitive bleeps and beats, just quietly going on and I found thatís really helped me focus. It sort of shut out all the nonsense.

Ginny - I listen to Sigur Růs because they sing in a language that I donít understand. So again, I donít get distracted by the words. But the other thing is, music can make boring things more fun. So, if you're doing a boring repetitive taskÖ

Kat - Like running.

Ginny - Öor data entry or something like that, then music actually can improve your performance because you donít get so bored. And if itís something that you're an expert at already then it can be beneficial. So surgeons often listen to music while performing operations.

Chris - Best email I ever got to the Naked Scientists was this guy in Australia. He wrote in and said, ďDear Naked Scientists, I love listening to your programme on a podcast when I'm in the laboratory dissecting the prostate glands out of Drosophila.Ē

But itís sort of what you're saying, isnít it? If there's something which is a repetitive motor task that you're really very good at, very practiced at, but you just have to go through the nuts and bolts of it every time, then actually, having something to occupy that part of your mind means that you're less likely to then get distracted and do something wrong.

Ginny - I think the best everyday example is driving. If you remember back to when you were first learning to change gears, the idea of having music on wouldíve just been way too much of concentrating so hard on what you're doing. But once youíve been driving for a year or so, it becomes completely natural and you can listen to music and things perfectly fine at the same time.

Kat - But of course, the only sanctioned listening should be the Naked Scientists on our podcasts.


Subscribe Free

Related Content


Make a comment

When I am trying to think, I find music very annoying. Atomic-S, Sat, 25th Apr 2015

Ditto; I do not know how people manage to work in open-plan offices, because I find that environment extremely distracting. Piped music is the final straw. chris, Sat, 25th Apr 2015

See the whole discussion | Make a comment

Not working please enable javascript
Powered by UKfast
Genetics Society