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Does Music Help You Study?

Research Paper Image

Music is a very important part of our lives, and numerous students prefer to study while listening to their favorite tunes. But does listening to music actually help with studying or not? Extensive research has been conducted trying to answer the question, and the results seem to be quite ambiguous, specialists often contradicting each other. This research paper aims to provide a useful insight into the matter.

Contradictions and Agreements

Some research papers, including a recent University of Wales study, suggest music is a distraction and thus reduces attention, which is why a completely silent environment may be preferred. Others, however, such as a study conducted by T. Cockerton and S. Moore, state quite the contrary, showing that background music can actually improve cognitive performance.

What is more, most of the times, students do not have access to a quiet place, where they are not disturbed by talkers, outside traffic, or any other noises. In such cases, many researchers seem to agree that background music is preferable than disruptive noise, subjects performing considerably better when listening to music.

The Type of Music and the Subject's Personality Matter

One reason why there seems to be contradictions regarding music and its effect on studying is that there are other factors involved that can affect the results, such as the type, style, and rhythm of the music, as well as the student's personality. It has been proven that strident, aggressive music, inconsistent musical styles or songs with vocals can have a counterproductive effect, keeping the brain focused rather on the song than on the subject matter at hand. Similarly, loud volumes are also disrupting, regardless of the music type. On the contrary, calming, constant music and instrumental tunes seem to be beneficial for concentration.

Furthermore, researchers have found that the personality of the listener also plays a role in how music affects studying, extroverts showing increased performance compared to introverts when listening to background music (according to a 2010 study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology). Likewise, students who are good at multitasking seem to test better when studying with music.

Music Boosts Brain Power

A recent study conducted by a team of researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine has found valuable information on how the brain works by using functional magnetic resonance images on subjects listening to short symphonic musical pieces. The research showed that music activates areas in the brain that are involved with memory, paying attention and making predictions. Co-author of the study Jonathan Berger, PhD, suggests that music engages the brain, sharpening the mind and boosting the ability to sustain attention for longer periods of time.

What's more, scientists state that music can improve speaking and reading skills, by boosting the listener's ability to understand language and sound patterns. Therefore, listening to music while studying for a language exam, for example, can be highly beneficial.

Music Creates a Proper Environment

Besides boosting brain power, music can simply be beneficial by creating a proper environment for studying, says Chris Brewer, author of "Soundtracks of Learning: Using Music in the Classroom" and a noted authority on the benefits of music on learning. It adds an element of fun to the tasks at hand, it provides motivation and inspiration, it improves mood and promotes a desirable atmosphere overall. Brewer recommends listening upbeat musical pieces to encourage positive thinking and maintain motivation while studying.

What is more, research papers and studies have shown that listening to pleasurable music increases the release of dopamine in the brain, and well-known "feel-good" hormone is proven to play a big role in facilitating reinforcement learning.

Music Reduces Stress and Boosts Energy Levels

A large scale research paper review conducted by Prof. Daniel J. Levitin (McGill University, Psychology Dept) has concluded that listening to and playing music lowers cortisol levels, reduces stress and decreases anxiety, as well as improving general mood. Furthermore, having upbeat music in the background can boost energy levels as well, allowing a tired mind to concentrate better when learning. These effects can be highly beneficial for studying, especially considering the pressure, level of stress and exhaustionstudents are subjected to nowadays.


While listening to musical pieces may not positively affect study performance in all cases, the right type of music can greatly benefit various areas that promote learning and increased productivity. It boosts brain power, lowers stress, improves mood and creates a pleasant atmosphere for studying and, therefore, it is recommended for students who want to learn more easily and improve their performance.