Does music help you study?

by Ella Kazazic

Students often try to learn and do homework while listening to music. This has many benefits and harms, but studies have shown to be ambiguous in finding out whether listening to music while studying is generally good or bad for your ability to learn more efficiently. However, many studies show that music with lyrics has a bad effect on studying, and that whether music is good or bad for learning depends on the person (Goodwin, 2015).

          Music with lyrics usually has a negative effect on studying (Castello and Tickell, 2012). According to Clifford Nass, a professor at Stanford University,“Music with lyrics is very likely to have a problematic effect when you’re writing or reading. Probably less of an effect on math, if you’re not using the language parts of your brain.” One of the most popular theories that determines the impact of music on studying is the “Mozart Effect”. This is the belief that listening to Mozart will make one smarter or better at studying (Baker, 2016). However, most students nowadays listen to pop or more upbeat music that has lyrics, so the influence is much different.

          The effects of listening to music while studying also vary depending on the person, their environment, and the task. Generally, introverts benefit less than extroverts when learning with music, and people who are bad at multitasking or get distracted easily shouldn’t study with music playing (Baker, 2016). The environment that one is in also affects the impact of listening to music while studying. “Medium levels of arousal are ideal for studying — not too agitated and not too relaxed — and music can also be an effective tool in leading students to that level” (Castello and Tickell, 2012). In other words, students can use music to create the ideal studying environment. Also, the task that one is doing often affects the influence of studying while listening to music. When doing something that involves language, such as reading a book or learning a language, music with lyrics may distract the student. However, when doing something like math, which does not involve words, music may be more beneficial. Also, when memorizing things in order, such as a series of numbers or even word-for-word definitions, music is harmful, since the words may affect the student’s memory (Goodwin, 2015).

          Many students believe that listening to music that they like rather than dislike will help them study. However, in Dr. Nick Perham’s 2010 study, “Can preference for background music mediate the irrelevant sound effect,” it was “found that listening to liked or disliked music was exactly the same, and both were worse than the quiet control condition”. Thus, the type of music that you’re listening to doesn’t matter very much.

          It is hard to make a firm decision for everyone when discussing whether music helps studying. However, I would advise that, unless you’re in a very noisy environment, you should put your headphones away and study in silence.