Does music make you study better?
The evidence for and against listening to music while learning.3 min read Published: 31 Mar 2023
Does music make you study better? The answer is...it depends! Current research shows both advantages and disadvantages to listening to music while you study.
Certain factors, such as the type of music you listen to, can influence whether it will be a beneficial or disruptive force for learning. There is also an element of personality and preferences at play.
Have a read through our list of pros and cons to decide whether music will improve your next study session...
The advantages of listening to music while studying
It reduces stress and boosts mood
A good mood and low stress levels set the scene for effective learning, so the brighter and less stressed you feel going into a study session, the better. And there is plenty of evidence to suggest that music has mood-boosting, stress-lowering properties.
One study had people carry out a psychological stress test while listening to relaxing music. The results found that the autonomic nervous system, as well as the endocrine and psychological stress response, were all impacted favorably by those who listened to relaxing music.
It can improve focus
A study from the Stanford University School of Medicine found that classical music helps your brain to not only learn new material more easily, but also interpret it too. The same study found that music can train you to pay closer attention to events and get better at predicting outcomes. And that can only be a good thing when it comes to learning.
Let's not beat around the bush, studying can be a slog. The good news is, music might be able to help motivate you. Research has shown music activates the same reward centers in your brain as other activities you take pleasure in performing. So even if you can't listen to music while you study, you could use music as a motivation boost during your study breaks. Alternatively, listen to your favorite tunes while you walk to the library to get yourself motivated.
It may help your memory
There is some research to suggest listening to music can help you with learning new information. One study found older adults were better at memory and processing tasks while listening to classical music. Time for some Beethoven?
The disadvantages of listening to music while studying
It can negatively impact working memory
If you have a hard time taking on board new information and managing various new materials, you might want to skip listening to your favorite beats while you study. Research has found that listening to music can reduce the capacity of your working memory. Working memory is a cognitive system that has a limited capacity which helps you to hold and process new information, like a phone number, address or a list of groceries.
It can lower reading ability
If you've got a lot of material to read as part of your study session, it might be wise to take out the headphones. Research has found that some music, particularly music that is both fast and loud, can lower your reading comprehension. The same study found that slow or soft classical music didn't impact reading comprehension, so if you've got a textbook to get through try swapping breakcore for Mozart.
Tips for studying with music
Keen to continue studying while listening to music? Follow these best practice guidelines to ensure the quality of your study session isn’t negatively affected:
- Choose slow, instrumental music
- Avoid complicated, experimental music and music with lyrics
- Keep the volume down
- Choose music you feel neutral towards
- Avoid listening to music services with adverts
The question 'does music make you study better?' has no straightforward answer. Research outlines some clear benefits; it lowers stress and boosts mood, both of which can impact the efficacy of a study session.
Music can also improve focus, especially if it's classical. Most people also find music inherently motivating, so it can be a useful tool for getting yourself into a positive state before your study, or as a pick-me-up during study breaks. Research has also found that listening to certain music can improve your memory.
But it's not all good news. Music can have a negative impact on your working memory, particularly if you already have a working memory with lower capacity. Reading ability can also be negatively affected by listening to music.
If you do want to continue listening to music while you study, go for slow instrumental music without lyrics and avoid anything experimental with unexpected beats or adverts. You should also keep the volume at a reasonable level and avoid music that you have strong emotions about.
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