Why Listening to Music at Work Could Make You Smarter

 

I was going to be a doctor – just like my dad - but music  kept getting in the way.  Whether it was zoning  out instead of studying, or skipping school to hang out with Adrian (who had the Yamaha QX1 Sequencer,) the older I got the less interesting academics seemed and  the more attractive music became.

No med school for me

I lost interest completely in my last 2 years of school and  ended up blowing my finals – instead of going to Edinburgh medical school I ended  up studying Psychology at The University of Westminster – and even then I  found the study of genetics, chemistry and biology interminably dull.  The one thing that kept me on the course was  the psychology – I loved it.  I find  people fascinating.

Psychology - it's awesome

To complete your honors degree you have to produce a huge paper  – kind of like a kid’s science fair project complete with hypothesis and  presentations except you have 6 months to do it and they give you a budget.  I knew exactly what I wanted to study: How  Sound Affects Human Performance – and for purposes of the course, I cross referenced it against personality  type.

Learning from Scientology

I would stand  outside the faculty building and tempt unsuspecting freshmen to come and take a test called the  Eysenck EPI, this basically sorted them into two types – Introverts or Extraverts.  I then escorted them down into the bowels of the  building to a soundproof room and sat them on the business side of a reaction  time box.  This is a simple metal box  that has three lights on it and a button underneath each light.  One of the lights comes on and the subject  has to hit the corresponding button as quickly as they can – the box measures  the reaction time in milliseconds and I would mark it down.  While this is going on the subject is wearing  a very expensive pair of headphones and I am subjecting them to increasingly  loud volumes of tones.  This was almost  as fun as the two way mirror stuff!

(Just a quick note on the scientology reference - I once had a very scary experience with them in Sydney, Australia - they take advantage of people in weakened states and I hold absolutely no respect for them whatsoever!)

The Data

Having got all the information together – this is what the  data looked like.

 
andrewpsych1.jpg
 

Noise helps rather than distracts

In essence – reaction times got better (performance  increased) as I added noise up until a certain point where the noise became  distracting at which point it started to decline.  And on top of that – extraverts needed more  stimulus than introverts to get to their optimal performance.

Relating this to music

This study – and trust me, there’s nothing like actually  doing it yourself to have the message hammered home - has stayed with me my whole life and was the basis for starting music2work2.  In a later post I will talk about why I think instrumental music works better for a lot of mind based tasks such as writing, reading and researching, but basically I don't want anything distracting my language centers when I'm working with words or creating stories of my own.

You have to work it out for yourselves...

I’m not recommending that you have noise on all the time –  silence is an incredible experience (if actually attained) and I will often  have nothing on if I’m working through a particular construct.  However – as a rule of thumb, I pretty much always have  music playing when I’m working.


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