In the car, the shops, the gym: the beat of a drum, the strum of a guitar, the sound of synth – it can feel like we live world of tunes. Arrive at work and what do we do? Turn the radio on or put the headphones in. A survey published last year showed that UK office workers spend a third of their working week listening to music. Why? We use music as a stress relief; to improve concentration or to trigger inspiration.
Let’s cast a scientific eye and find out when listening to music at work really is good or bad…
Should you listen to music while you work?
It’s been said that listening to Mozart improves exam results. Others claim that music dulls the mind. There have been hundreds of small-scale experiments examining the effects of music on memory, concentration and sport performance. Taken as a whole, they don’t suggest very much: background music has very little effect on our mental faculties. So why do so many of us need to rock out as we work on?
Three German researchers decided to take a closer look at all the evidence. Compiling all background music-related experiments published (and only those on adults) they thoroughly analysed their combined results (a meta-analysis). Of the 189 studies they found, the best 97 were weeded out (the rest were poorly done experiments). In keeping with what they expected: for every investigation that found music was beneficial, an equal number demonstrated a music was bad. However, just as no song is the same, so no experiment is the same and our German friends spotted some common themes:
- background music interferes with reading tasks
- memory is impaired when music is playing
- athletic performance improves with music
- fast paced music increases the speed that you can perform the task in hand
- music tends to lift mood and may help with monotonous tasks
Listening to music is good for work! (but only certain jobs)
So what are we to conclude?
Play music on the factory floor? Ban iPods in the library? Broadcast dance music when a deadline is looming? Perhaps.
I think this summary about UK office workers sums up my feelings quite nicely: “Managers and employees can benefit from recognizing the importance of employees being able to select their own music.“
Ok, Metallica for me then. And you?
Thanks for reading – feel free to comment below…
Kampfe, J., Sedlmeier, P., & Renkewitz, F. (2010). The impact of background music on adult listeners: A meta-analysis Psychology of Music, 39 (4), 424-448 DOI: 10.1177/0305735610376261
Haake, A. (2011). Individual music listening in workplace settings: An exploratory survey of offices in the UK Musicae Scientiae, 15 (1), 107-129 DOI: 10.1177/1029864911398065