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Why you should control the music you work to

Why you should control the music you work to


We have yet to find someone who doesn't agree that at certain times listening to music can make you more productive.  However, when you look at some of the large meta-analyses of research into the idea of music to work to, it gets a little more opaque.  

More recent research indicates that what happens in these big studies is that the positive effects of listening to music are balanced out by the negative effects, leading the researchers to conclude that music to work to doesn't actually work.

Looking at the right variable

We recently came across a study from Dr. Amanda Krause who was intrigued by the idea of dominance and control over the auditory environment and the effect it would have on how people felt.

Using a technique called the experience sampling method (ESM,) she conducted a study where 177 participants were sent two text messages a day and were asked to complete online reports on their experience with music in the preceding two hours.

Her team initially focused on what devices people were listening to music on and found that when listening to music through the radio or recorded music in public (a low control environment,) people reported feelings of lethargy.  However, when listening to music on mp3 players or through their computer speakers (a high control environment,) people reported contentment and further motivation to listen.

Control is everything

If you just looked at the data without separating the medium on which they experienced the music - you'd say there was a net zero benefit from listening.  Which is clearly not the case for some of the people and leads us to wonder how many other variables are being missed in the music to work to literature.

For us the big takeaway from this initial study is that the development in the last decade of audio hardware combined with the digitization of music (mp3 players, iPods, Beats headphones etc,) has given people far more control over what they listen to.  As a result, the concept of music to work to becomes more popular as it becomes more effective.

While we know that everyone is different and what works for one person might be anathema for another, if you need to get some writing done, maybe some research or any kind of knowledge work, you might try some music2work2 - it seems to work well for a lot of people.

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Why listening to music at work could make you smarter

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77% of People Listen to Music at Work!

77% of People Listen to Music at Work!


Charlotte found this well written article by Liam Ward-Proud on how music can boost productivity.  While he touches on some of the familiar issues (de-bunking the Mozart effect & quoting Teresa Lesiuk) he did have a figure that blew me away.

Seems that a study from Sheffield University puts the number of people listening to music at work at 77%.  That's amazing!  As Liam suggests, and as we predicted eight years ago, the accessibility of portable players and new digital distribution platforms have made it super easy for people to access music - everywhere and anywhere.

It's interesting to see how the whole idea of music in the workplace has become accepted as normal.  What's fun to watch now is how different people and companies will tell you that it's their music that can help you best.

I think I'm with Liam on this one, what's best for you is totally subjective and driven by how that music makes you feel.  Just because there's research that instrumental music is best for some knowledge workers doesn't mean it's best for all of them. 

I know for me when I'm writing I need instrumental music - but when I'm researching it can be anything from Rastaman Vibrations through to Easy Star All-Stars Dub Side of the Moon - I like to groove when I read!

If you're part of the 23% that doesn't listen to music at work, read Liam's article on How Music Can Boost Productivity - it's a good introduction!


Image Credit: Music to Work or Study By - epiclectic - Flickr

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Will Music Make Your Child Smarter?

Will Music Make Your Child Smarter?


And so the debate continues - Vicky Williamson rebuts Louisa Diller's reading of Schellenberg's work and who knows how the politicians will vote!  Should society pay for music education - in the long term is there a net benefit - is there a positive ROI?

At the moment it's all in the framing of the argument - the unfortunate positioning of the "Mozart Effect"  and its commercial exploitation that Music will increase your IQ, we now know to be false. But to quote Michael Jackson - we shouldn't allow one bad apple to spoil the whole bunch of girls!

The research is clear that there are cognitive benefits - though they may seem secondary in nature.  For example, musical training improves auditory processing which in turn develops language processing, which in turn can develop classroom performance, something we know to be true - and yet - because it doesn't improve your IQ - should we just ignore these more subtle benefits?

Clearly I'm on the "music is good for you" side and I believe that if society does pay for early music training we will see a net benefit.  The sooner our scientists can understand how it works and publish verifiable data - the sooner we can convince our politicians that it's the right thing to do.

Image Credit: Untitled - Hilary Boles - Flickr

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