Checking It Out: Does music interfere with studying?
Have you ever seen your children studying with iPod earplugs in their ears and wondered how they stay focused?
Experts say that they don’t, at least not as well as they would if the music weren't on--unless, that is, the music is solely instrumental.
There have been countless research studies over decades about the effect of music on the brain. Some are contradictory; for example, there is the body of thought that listening to Mozart does, if only briefly, increase I.Q. vs. the belief that it has no effect at all.
But the research on music--and now, multitasking-- while studying is becoming clear, experts say.
So what happens when your child studies for a science test with Jay-Z pouring from an iPod?
According to Stanford University Professor Clifford Nass, the human brain listens to song lyrics with the same part that does word processing, which is the same part that supposedly is being employed for studying, he said.
Something has to give, and it is the ability your child has to do the work he or she is supposed to be doing.
Instrumental music is another story. For the most part, it is processed on the other side of the brain from the part that is processing language.
“So if you are reading and listening to instrumental music you get virtually no interference,” Nass said. “The music would not, in fact affect you, unless you are thinking deeply about the music, like, ‘I wonder why Chopin chose the F sharp.’”
Nass is a communications professor who also has appointments in the departments of computer science; education; science, technology and society; cognitive science and sociology. The focus of his research is on the social-psychological aspects of human interaction with media.
He and some Stanford colleagues recently added to the body of research that proves your kids are also wrong when they say that they can study while they listen to music, text their friends and do all manner of other things.
They conducted a series of experiments with two different groups of people--heavy media multitaskers and light media multitaskers.
The results: Those doing more tasks at once performed more poorly on a test of task-switching ability. The researchers said this likely is due to a reduced ability to stop focusing on one task as they moved to another one.
Even though American society is filled with multitaskers who think they are accomplishing more than ever, researchers say they aren’t doing as much, or as well, as they think.
Do you work while listening to music, and do you think it affects how well you are able to stay focused? Are you a multitasker and do you think it affects the quality of your work?
What about your kids?
| October 20, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Tags: Music While Studying
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