Have you ever worked in an open-plan office and been working on a very important task, only to be driven slowly mad by a co-worker constantly sniffing, or sipping their coffee, or clipping their nails? Something quite innocuous suddenly becomes much more infuriating when you're trying to work on something your brain doesn't necessarily enjoy.
Music is a very useful tool in such situations. It provides non-invasive noise and pleasurable feelings, to effectively neutralize the unconscious attention system's ability to distract us. It's much like giving small children a new toy to play with while you're trying to get some work done without them disturbing you.
Science Behind It
For all its amazing abilities, the brain hasn't really evolved to take in abstract information or spend prolonged periods thinking about one thing. We seem to have two attention systems: a conscious one that enables us to direct our focus towards things we know we want to concentrate on and an unconscious one that shifts attention towards anything our senses pick up that might be significant. The unconscious one is simpler, more fundamental, and linked to emotional processing rather than higher reasoning.
Using music for achieving greater concentration and relaxation is proven in many scientific studies. Experts suggest that classical music may be able to boost brain power and accelerate learning capabilities in people of all ages. Listening to one's favorite music before a homework, study or exam session can be very beneficial for improving focus. Students who suffer from depression and anxiety are able to concentrate better by using music as a study aid.
Music makes repetitive tasks more enjoyable
Music's effectiveness is dependent on how "immersive" a task is, referring to the creative demand of the work.
When a task is clearly defined and repetitive in nature, research suggests that music is consistently helpful.
In the workplace, music can improve a worker's productivity by bringing his or her attention back to the present moment. Music also improves the mood of employees, and it allows them to focus better to finish tasks faster. When music is used to stimulate concentration regularly, its effects on a person become stronger.
Although "music that you like" should be given preference, most people have a fairly wide range of tastes, so using a certain type of music just for work isn't out of the question.
The Real Effect Depends on the Listener
Today, it's easier than ever to bring your music with you wherever you go as music has become inherently portable. We listen to music while we walk, cook, drive - when we want to feel happy or relaxed. Music has become a fundamental part of our lives, which is why students are so eager to know whether it will negatively or positively impact their studying.
Because music can impact and regulate your mood and the best mood to study in is a more relaxed mood, choosing music that helps you relax but also with enough beat or rhythm to ensure you don't zone out while studying is crucial. But music that's too loud or with too much of an upbeat tempo can also be distracting, so having a playlist or specific artist you turn to for studying music can really help.
If you're the type of person who has more difficulty multitasking and is easily distracted, listening to music while studying may just cause your attention to drift to the music rather than help you concentrate on your material.
But in order for you to study the most productively, you need to figure out the effect music has on your studying ability, and then tailor your studying playlist - be it silence or music - to best suit your needs and efficiency.