New report finds listening to music damages creativity


Does music help or hinder creativity, or is it personal preference? Photo: pxhere

It is a popular belief that listening to music will increase the brain’s working ability and help us retain information

However, research carried out by the University of Central Lancashire, University of Gävle in Sweden and Lancaster University suggests that it has the opposite effect. Psychologists looked at the impact of background music on performance by presenting people with verbal insight problems. The findings suggest that background music “significantly impaired” people’s ability to complete the tasks.

During the tests, participants were asked to find the word that connects ‘dial’, ‘dress’ and ‘flower’, the answer being ‘sun’. The experiments were conducted in either a quiet environment or while being exposed to background music with foreign or unfamiliar lyrics, instrumental music without lyrics and music with familiar lyrics.

The results show that all subjects were unable to carry out the tasks as efficiently while listening to any form of music. The disruption appears to affect participant’s verbal working memory, making it harder to find the link between the three words presented to them.

“We found strong evidence of impaired performance when playing background music in comparison to quiet background conditions,” said Dr Neil McLatchie of Lancaster. “To conclude, the findings here challenge the popular view that music enhances creativity, and instead demonstrate that music, regardless of the presence of semantic content (no lyrics, familiar lyrics or unfamiliar lyrics), consistently disrupts creative performance in insight problem-solving.”

McLatchie’s findings go against previous studies that point towards music aiding creative activities and exam revision. Some schools have introduced music into classrooms to help students prepare for exams as a direct result of those experiments. It’s been a long upheld belief that classical music is the most effective genre for such tasks, with websites selling books and recordings specifically for that purpose.

However, a study in 2018 by Cardiff University found students who revised in quiet environments performed 60% better in exams than those who revised while listening to music with lyrics. There was an increase in performance between those who listened to music without lyrics – backing up the belief that classical music is the best genre to revise to. The study also showed that it made no difference whether the students liked or disliked the songs they were listening to, as both led to a reduction in test results. This latest research draws similar conclusions to the study carried out last year by Cardiff University.

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