Opinion: Music can be either distracting or beneficial depending on the individual


Student at work while an earbud is hung over his ear. (BRANDON SAGLAM/ Ethic Photo)

According to popular belief, music is mostly a distraction while studying;  however, there are many sides of the story to be considered. For example, Dr. Anneli B. Haake, a researcher devoted to the investigation of music’s impact on the workplace, asserts that music is not strictly distracting. Rather, it can actually be “beneficial to concentration” in stressful situations, which can occur in a school environment. While this may be true, music also has the potential to distract people from their studies and homework. Many listen to music on their phones, which opens the door for them to become distracted by notifications or “just checking” social media. This begs the question of whether listening to music or working in silence is better for productivity.

In support of the viewpoint that music aids studying, Dr. Joanne Cantor, an acclaimed expert on the psychology of media and communications, explains how “low-load-information” music has been shown in studies to “not to have interfered with processing information” and has “aided relaxation and reduced stress.” As Cantor notes, pleasing, upbeat music can boost mood and be motivational. Cantor also describes how it is better to listen to music that is lyricless or familiar so that it is harder to become distracted by it. If the music is familiar or not understandable, it becomes better to study to as it is background noise rather than the main focus.

According to Nick Perham, a senior lecturer in psychology at Cardiff Metropolitan University, music has “beneficial effects on creativity,” can boost one’s mood, spark the imagination and better emotions.  Music also increases concentration because someone listening to music it is more likely to be engaged in their work than if they were working in silence. In short, if someone is listening to music in the background, their brain is already multitasking and is less likely to be distracted by outside noise.

Some say that music can be distracting and others say that music can help you focus and study more. However, given that listening to music is considered multitasking, Cantor further asserts that “as research consistently shows, multitasking reduces the efficiency, accuracy, and quality of what you do.” Furthermore, music has the potential to “change your mood or affective state” for the better, a quality that is helpful during studying.

Earbuds wrapped as they are no longer in use but still attached to the phone. (BRANDON SAGLAM/ Ethic Photo)

However, in regards to the viewpoint that music detracts from studying, multiple studies have shown that music in some circumstances is distracting and can move the focus from studying to the music and the electronics it is being played on. According to the study “Effects of Background Music on Phonological Short-term Memory” by Salame, Baddeley and “Current Psychology,” music is like speech in that it is “highly structured, and one may, therefore, expect to find the same disruption with music as is apparent with speech.” These findings point to the assertion that music is a disruption, validating the opposite side of this debate.

The topic of music being either bad or good for a learning environment has been studied for over 40 years, according to Perham, but still, no definitive conclusion has been drawn as the experience of music is just as subjective as an individual’s take on art. There will always be two sides to each story, and music’s effects will forever continue to depend on the subjective interpretation of the individual.

One thought on “Opinion: Music can be either distracting or beneficial depending on the individual

  1. From one perspective, some people will be able to concentrate better than others with music, and some activities are easier to concentrate than others. Music increases the number of sensory inputs, so simple or repetitive inputs become easier with music, while complicated or in’depth tasks become harder.

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