Can music affect concentration?

A study was done at the Imperial College and the Royal College of Music to examine whether listening to music influenced concentration whilst doing a task.

Families often have arguments over whether children should be allowed to listen to music whilst revising and music has often been used in professional settings such as operating theatre. The study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, involved playing music into participant’s ears whilst they attempted to play the board game ‘Operation’ – where players have to remove pieces with tweezers without setting off a buzzer. The 350 people had to carry out the tasks whilst being played AC/DC, Mozart and then the background music of an operating theatre.

Whilst women weren’t effected by any of the music played the men seemed to have a higher level performance when listening to Mozart. However this was only the case for people who enjoyed listening to classical music and after this was considered there appeared to be no change in their performance.

The research teams could not come up with an explanation as to why women were less affected but suggested it might be a greater susceptibility among men to “auditory stress” – where sensitivity is affected by “loud or discordant music”.

Dr Daisy Fancourt, leader author of the research, regarded the study using the board game ‘Operation’ as “tongue in cheek” but that it was a component of wider research into how music could change people’s performance, including in settings such as operating theatres.

However questions were raised about whether different types of music could influence the effectiveness of how teams worked. “This study suggests that for men who are operating or playing a board game, rock music may be a bad idea,” Dr Fancourt said.

By Finnerty

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