Why can't I concentrate if I can hear music?

10 August 2014


A pair of headphones



Right now, I'm listening to music, but that's OK because I finished work hours ago. I find that I can't work with music playing as all my attention is on the music and it distracts me.

On the other hand, I have friends who can't work unless they have music, at loud volume, blasting through their skulls via their head phones. So why should there be such a difference?

I should point out, I'm over 50, the people with the phones are younger, so is it merely age?


Ian - It's not just your age that will affect this. Your personality, musical preference, the particular task, your personal experiences or how musical you are, all probably have an effect on how much music can distract you.

When we encounter music in the background as opposed to actively listening to it, it may affect us in two ways. It may affect our emotional state, either positively or negatively, helping us to work better or causing us to work worse; or it may affect our concentration by inadvertently capturing our attention, diverting it away from the task at hand.

On the other hand, it may have no effect at all. A group of German researchers looked at the many studies that have been done and they report that background music disturbs the reading process with some small detrimental effects on memory, but has a positive impact and emotional reactions and improved achievement in sports.

But, as they point out, it's very difficult to compare results across studies because the methods and the experimental participants varied so much from study to study.

It's reasonable to think that, for some people, background music provides a means of giving a self-selected sonic texture to their surroundings, marking off a private space within which they can focus on what they're doing. Without background music, these people would be more easily distracted from the tasks that they're undertaking.

For other people, background music itself would constitute too much of a distraction, diverting attention away from the task at hand. For both types of people however, the important factor would be whether or not they liked and selected the music.

Music that is present without your consent is always more like it cause negative effects and impact on your performance on the task at hand. In other words, if your neighbour is playing music that you don't like, and you have no immediate influence over them, it's much more like they destroy your ability to do your work than if you yourself have chosen the music that's playing.


nobody can do 2 things at the same time....either they are ignoring the music, or they are working...or they are switching between music nand working...those wof usethat cant do this are tunnel vision types who dont like to switch.

i often being absent-minded during my work because music is always running on my mind . that's why it leads me to a poor working performance

I couldn't read the article I was reading before this one because the song on my playlist changed and I didn't want to hear that song. I had to keep going back to the type of sounds I was listening to before it changed songs to be able to continue reading. But then I inserted one earbud into my left ear and I couldn't read anymore. It was then that I questioned why I can't and came across this website and realized I can only, barely, read what I want to read and not what I don't want to which is now the previous articles I was reading about. Now I accepted what happened, I am posting this comment in case it helps others .

I couldn't even listen to music trying to read this article. Hmmm...

same i had to pause my favorite song

I'm very happy that I found this article because I'm only a teenager but I can't read and listen to music at the same time. It makes me concentrate on the music so much that I can't concentrate on the amazing book that I'm reading. I always wondered if I was the only one because all of my peers couldn't read without music. But I thanks to this article I know that I'm not alone. And I do have very different taste in music than my peers.

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