Studying With Music – Good or Bad?


Most of us have done it or seen others doing it, but is studying with music good or bad? Many students claim that the only way they can study is with music. They insist they can not study without it. However, they may want to pull those plugs out of their ears and turn off the MP3 player. New scientific research shows that such multi-tasking may make them learn less and use the wrong part of the brain to store information.

As early as 2006, researchers at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) found that listening to music while studying had a negative impact on learning. The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to show activity in different parts of the brain. What they found was that while it was possible for people to learn under either condition, multi-tasking rendered in less flexible knowledge. There was also a difference in the types of memory activated under multi-tasking and non-multi-tasking conditions.

The UCLA study found that students who listen to music created a distraction in the brain which caused it to use a region not best suited to understanding and long-term memory. Recalling certain types of information is more difficult. But, try telling that to your average high school or college student. It's not what they want to hear.

In September, 2010, a new study was released by researchers at the University of Wales in Cardiff, United Kingdom, about the impact of studying while listening to music. Participants in the study were tested while listening to various types of music: quiet music, music they liked, music they did not like. The study showed that performance was worse regardless of what type of music the participants listened to. Subjects such as languages, math and chemistry can be specifically hampered by background music. If a sequence of information is later to be recalled, listening to music will make the task more difficult. Nick Perham and his colleagues at the institute found that to reduce the negative effects of listening to music, students should study in quiet.

In many classrooms, today, teachers now have the tendency to play music while students are working. The type of music variants, and students tell me that sometimes the music is not to their liking. In other words, it's a distraction. This reinforcement of the idea that listening to music somehow improves studying does not help students who are trying to complete assigned tasks. Teachers should have made aware of the latest studies and turn the music off.

What music listeners and proponents of studying with music do not understand is that they are dividing their attention. While a student is studying and plugged in to their favorites songs, part of the brain is listening to the music. Attention is divided. Listening to music while studying is a distraction that does not allow students to fully concentrate on the task at hand and affects memory. They need to learn to remove the earplugs from the iPod or turn off the CD. It will take some getting use to, but they will improve their memory and perform better in their studies. No matter what the arguments are about whether studying with music is good or bad, the research shows that it really is a bad idea.


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