Is Music Useful for Studying?

Nejra Hojic
Edited by Isabella White
Published on
November 22, 2023

Music has long been a popular companion for students while studying, claiming various cognitive benefits. However, the practice also faces criticism for its potential to hinder focus and concentration. This article will explore the pros and cons of using music during study sessions, as well as delving into the science behind its effects, including the soothing genre of lofi, and its impact on memory recall.

Pros of Using Music While Studying

Enhanced Concentration: Research by Nantais and Schellenberg (1999) suggests that certain types of music can improve concentration and focus, making it easier to absorb and retain information. This is useful with all types of studying, but the research was only done on certain types of music, therefore the conclusion is limited and should be treated as such.

Mood Regulation: Music can positively influence one’s mood. Dopaminergic pathways stimulated by music, as highlighted by the study from Salimpoor et al. (2011), can alleviate stress and anxiety, which often interfere with studying. This can also help with memory retention, as studies done on this topic have found that stress gets in the way of the formation and recall of memory. Listening to music before studying and tests can help individuals get into a positive state of mind, making recall easier. 

Memory Enhancement: The “Mozart Effect” proposed by Rauscher et al. (1993) suggests that listening to classical music can temporarily enhance spatial-temporal reasoning, potentially aiding memory recall during studying. Further studies done on this topic have found that when listening to classical music while studying, and then the same music when testing, individuals tended to have better memory recall. Classical music is good for relaxation in general, and its lack of lyrics makes it perfect for studying. 

Background Noise: For some, a moderate level of ambient music can drown out distracting background noise, promoting a conducive study environment. This can fuel individuals while studying, and also lessen stress that may be caused from background noises. Rain sounds are very popular for this as well as white noise. Studies on the benefits of green, white and pink noise have found that they are great for mood regulation as they have calming effects. Listening to them can be great for not only drowning out background noise, but also allowing yourself to be calmer. 

Lofi and Brainwaves: Lofi music, known for its calming nature, has gained popularity among students. Research by Thoma et al. (2013) indicates that it can synchronize brainwaves, enhancing cognitive functions such as memory retention and recall, making it a great tool to use when studying, similarly to classical music. 

Cons of Using Music While Studying

Distraction: Music with lyrics or a fast tempo can divert attention from the study material, especially during tasks requiring high cognitive load (Perham & Currie, 2014). This can decrease focus and cause individuals to require more effort to focus and remain in that state of focus than without music. This study however, only applies to music with lyrics. 

Reduced Focus: A study by Furnham and Bradley (1997) found that music can lead to a decrease in task performance for individuals who are not accustomed to studying with music. This is referring to people who typically don't listen to music, suddenly starting to, however after an adequate amount of time, this will no longer be the case. 

Interference with Memory: While music can enhance memory in some cases, it can also hinder it. Research by Jäncke (2010) suggests that unfamiliar music may compete for cognitive resources and impair memory retention. This is due to your brain paying extra attention to the music you're listening to rather than the topic you're working on. To solve this, individuals can listen to music they already know. 

Preference Variability: Musical preferences vary greatly among individuals. What might be motivating and helpful for one student can be a source of irritation and distraction for another. Individuals, especially students, can get so caught up in picking music or making playlists that it takes time away from actually completing work and can also lead to procrastination. Using pre-selected songs or having designated study playlists can help solve this issue. 

The use of music while studying is a complex issue with both advantages and disadvantages, as evidenced by numerous neuroscience studies. The choice of music genre, individual preferences, and the nature of the study material all play significant roles in determining its effectiveness. While lofi and certain types of music can synchronize brainwaves and enhance memory recall, it’s essential for students to remain mindful of the potential for distraction and interference with focus. Ultimately, the decision to incorporate music into the study routine should be based on personal preferences and the specific demands of the task at hand. Understanding the science behind music’s effects can help students make informed choices that optimize their study experience.

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