Since music became easily available within the educational environment through music streaming platforms, and portable music players, it has been debated whether listening to music whilst studying can improve or limit the success of our studying. Many students enjoy listening to music whilst studying, and say that it helps them concentrate and ultimately be more productive, whilst the majority of teachers are usually very quick to shoot this down, and discourage music, suggesting that it limits cognitive performance.
Well, it would actually seem that both are right, and both are wrong. Considerable amounts of psychological research has been put into this, with some psychologists such as Cockerton et al (1997) suggesting that musical distractions have a positive impact on cognitive performance, yet others such as Furnham & Bradley (1997) suggesting that it lowers cognitive performance, as the brain cannot undertake both tasks at once.
However, what could possibly be more accurate is that there is a middle-ground between the two. Smith & Morris (1977) found that students perform better at cognitive tasks when listening to music…but there’s a catch. Students listened to either their preferred genre of music, or a distinctly different genre, and improvements in cognitive performance were only found when listening to the less preferred genre. Sorry to be the bearer of further news for all your musical-study sesh students out there, but in the control group who listened to no music, yeah you’ve guessed it, cognitive performance was at its best!
Perhaps the reason for this is that preferred music can stir up emotions and memories, and we can be drawn to the lyrics as opposed to the words in a textbook, which is why we get easily distracted by it. Therefore, on the whole, as someone who has never been able to listen to music whilst studying, I would still advise trying to keep the music to a bare minimum, however if you truly do feel desperate to listen to music, try listening to something you are unfamiliar with, or instrumentals without lyrics so that your studying session doesn’t suffer.