Whether it be at Campus Center or in Hamilton Library, students hunching over textbooks with earbuds in is a common sight. Although music is an enjoyable form of entertainment, it can have a negative effect on concentration. Students must be aware of how studying while listening to music affects their performance in order to gauge what helps them best.
Music’s effect on the body and mind
Studying for exams is a mentally and emotionally straining activity, especially if one is concerned about a particular test.
According to a report published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, music often has a positive influence on the body, alleviating “pain, anxiety, nausea, fatigue and depression.” In an article published by the American Psychological Association, music also lowers the levels of cortisol, or the “stress hormone,” in the body.
Listening to one’s favorite song while cramming for a test can help reduce the anxiety and stress often associated with finals week.
As stated by another report published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, music can increase mental performance, according to the arousal-mood hypothesis. This hypothesis suggests that “listening to music affects task performance by positively influencing arousal and mood.” Studies have shown that music helps with “improvements in verbal memory encoding … verbal and visual processing speed, arithmetic skill, reading, and second language learning …”
The record scratch
Although music has positive effects on the body, it can also hinder cognitive abilities.
The same report that addresses the arousal-mood hypothesis also states that “background music may have a small but persistent negative effect on memory performance-related tasks, such as … remembering previously read texts and reading performance.” It can also “interfere with many additional cognitive processes, including the ability to perform ... on verbal, numerical and diagrammatic analysis tests.”
This negative effect is linked to “cognitive capacity,” or the limited amount of resources available for cognitive processes. Listening to music while studying can allocate part of one’s cognitive capacity toward processing what is going in their ears rather than what they are trying to visually read. When the brain’s cognitive capacity is exceeded, capacity interference occurs, which means “[o]nly a portion of the task information is processed,” causing a decrease in overall performance.
Final (music) note
Students often listen to music while studying. Whether it aids one’s focus or serves as a distraction from exam-induced stress, music can also have a negative effect on one’s cognitive abilities. Many may want to continue listening to music for its positive influences and cognitive performance boost, per the arousal-mood hypothesis. With this in mind, students must find what music helps them best achieve enhanced focus and positive results while studying for finals.