Dr. Anneli Haake spent the last 6 years studying the effect of music on office workers in the UK; her results were published in the academic journal Musicae Scientiae in March earlier this year. For those of us not familiar with reading large scientific texts, we asked Annelli to give us a lay person's overview by answering a few questions. Before we get to her answers, here's the one thing that hits us from the Abstract:

"Previous research has focused on positive mood and negative effects of distraction on task performance, but this study identified additional significant functions: inspiration, concentration, positive distraction, stress relief and managing personal space. Employees listened to music for a third of their working week, and reported listening to a wide variety of music styles and artists. Music helped them to both engage in and escape from work, and they often used music to seal themselves off from the office environment"

It's clear that music can and does play a huge role in assisting human beings tackle their daily work. We think that studies like Dr. Haake's are just scratching the surface and we can't wait to learn more about how music can help. Here are Anneli's answers:

Please sum up your study in nice non-technical language

Sure. I studied the experiences of music in offices, and I did three empirical studies: a survey, a listening intervention study, and interviews. I found that music could be distracting if people had not chosen to listen, but otherwise it seemed to help in managing other distractions in the office. It could also be inspiring, relaxing and calming, but irritating if it was imposed. Music was perhaps not the main activity in the office (after all, people are there to work), but it was still very important for those who usually listened.

When people listened, they also carefully considered the context in which they listened. They made sure not to distract others, or to appear unprofessional. They also modified their listening according to whether they felt they needed to really concentrate hard. But sometimes they would still choose to listen to music, especially if they worked in a noisy office.

What was the main take away for you from the research?

How important it is to be able to choose when to listen and what to listen to. And how difficult people found it if they were not able to choose. Also, how important some people found music at work, but how the concept of music at work is still seen as a bit "naughty." I interpreted this as a remains of the old work/leisure split, which has been so common in the industrialised society. But I think it is changing in some places because of the developments in technology, which makes it easier to bring music into work.

What do you plan to do with the research?

Publish in academic journals, and also other non-academic magazines. Hopefully give talks and guest lectures for anyone interested, share the knowledge, basically.

Is there a difference between instrumental music and songs?

I don't think it is as easy as simply saying "instrumental music is good for working, and songs are not." There are so many other factors that can influence: what's going on around you, and individual music preferences are two major factors, I think.

What are you currently up to?

I have just finished my doctorate in music psychology, where I have researched music listening in offices in the UK. I am currently on the look out for research projects that could suit me. My work has just been published in the academic journal Musicae Scientiae (March, 2011) about music listening in offices. I am also working as a Swedish language teacher and translator (my day job).

Why did you choose music as an area to study?

I have always been fascinated by the fact that music has the ability to touch people to such an extent. When I was 18, I did a small school project about a music therapist and visited him when he was working with people with special needs. It was so interesting. After that, I found out that there was an academic subject called Music Psychology, so I started studying that over 10 years ago, and has been doing so ever since.

Are you a musician yourself?

Well, not at the moment. However, about 10 years ago I was quite active, as a singer and a song writer in Stockholm, Sweden. I was a member of several bands, and one of the bands (I played keyboard and did backing vocals) even managed to land a major record contract with Sony Music. Unfortunately, the band split up before the album was released, but it did give me an insight into the crazy world of the music industry.

What music do you like to listen to when writing?

Because I work mainly at home, I prefer silence most of the time. But if I have to read while travelling on a train, then I would listen to most things I listen to otherwise. When I was writing my doctorate thesis, I worked very well to Fleet Foxes, Lisa Ekdal and Scarlatti sonatas. But I also like Foo Fighters, Biffy Clyro, Gillian Welch, Ryan Adams, Kings of Leon, Royksopp and Arcade Fire. And of course '9 to 5' with Dolly Parton!

Why do you think music is such a constant in society?

This is a huge question. Maybe because of all the different functions it can have, and all the different emotions and memories it can evoke. The list is endless, which is why it is such a fascinating topic to study.


Thank you Anneli for taking the time to answer our questions, you can learn more about Dr. Haake's work at her website: http://musicatwork.net/

We do feel that there is a difference between instrumental music and songs with words when you are using the language centers of your brain - although there haven't been any specific studies on this area yet. It was interesting to see Anneli answer that question more from the perspective of immediate environment and personal preference. Maybe in the future we could commission Anneli to investigate this - we'll need to sell a few more memberships before then!


If you're looking for other types of music to work to - check out this post over on the AVclub website on Music to Work by - with 296 comments and thousands of different artists and bands, you should be able to find something to help you.

And finally - if you haven't tried some music2work2 - then join up - become a free member and download the Writer's playlist - see how music can work for you.