Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Medical Reading or studying while listening to music

  1. Mar 18, 2007 #1
    Does reading or studying while listening to music improve or worsen your mental process?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 19, 2007 #2
    For some people such as myself I use to block out external noises. While seriously studying I never pay attention to the music. When I realize the song that is playing I am surprised by the fact that the CD is that far into the tracks. Your brain tends to block out alot of things in the environment.
  4. Mar 19, 2007 #3


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    I used to listen to music while studying, but I don't practice that anymore. Even when I did so, it was not the type of music I was usually listening too - it was either something new, which I hadn't heard before, or some completely different genre. When you know what you're listening too, you're automatically focused on "what comes next" (i.e. hey that's my favourite solo!). :smile:
  5. Mar 19, 2007 #4


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I need absolute silence when I study or work.
  6. Mar 19, 2007 #5


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I need a cafeteria full of noise to write essays and stuff. Something to do with ambient noise and free associated words filtering into my writing.
  7. Mar 19, 2007 #6


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    And, thus, the answer is...it depends on the person. :biggrin:

    I focus on things I need to read much better when lost amidst a large crowd, and barring that, with plenty of upbeat music. But, I've known plenty of others who need dead silence to study. One thing for certain, my office with this white noise generator (a.k.a., the noisy air vent) is the absolute worst place for me to focus on anything.
  8. Mar 19, 2007 #7
    Let me rephrase the question, does listening to music while doing homework/studying/reading help the brain in any sort of way. Can any one list advantages and disadvantages about all this?
  9. Mar 19, 2007 #8


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    The disadvantage for me is that it is distracting. My mantra when studying or working is "Relax and focus." For me it's hard to focus when there are constant distractions.
  10. Mar 19, 2007 #9
    When I study, I either need a constant noise such as my computer or fan (even as loud as a jumbo jet probably wouldn't bother me) or complete silent. Because I have ADD my mind automatically tries to focus on something else, in this case, the music. Even if it's music that I don't know, I'll still focus in on the rhythm or words while I'm studying.
  11. Mar 19, 2007 #10
    Me too! When I told my wife I have trouble studying in an empty house, she told me I like to have someone to ignore! I think that the external distractions, which are easy to block, make me less aware of the self-generated distractions.
  12. Mar 19, 2007 #11
    I have come up with my most creative solutions to work problems when driving a car and listening to classical music. Music with words does not work. It has to be only instruments.

    Driving down a dark empty highway with Mozart works best but I once got an answer to an important problem involving a space craft failure when driving in Los Angeles.
  13. Mar 20, 2007 #12
    I find that i focus better when listening to music. So what can be said about all this? How can this incorporate intelligence? Is there a difference between a genius that works with silence and a person who works while listening to music? I would like a study to be done.
  14. Apr 19, 2007 #13
    Agreed, It has to have no lyrics for me to write with it on- I prefer progressive house or music which is spacial
  15. Apr 19, 2007 #14
    driving is great for me, with or w/out music--its a wonder I haven't killed anyone.
  16. Apr 19, 2007 #15


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I find that I need little 30-45 second "mini breaks" during any intense mental activity. As a result, it's absolutely imperative for me to have some kind of distraction available, but it must be relatively unobtrusive. In other words, it needs to be just interesting enough to attract my attention every now and then, but not so interesting that I have a hard time tearing myself away from it.

    I generally listen to progressive trance or downtempo when I'm working hard on something. If the music keeps me tapping my toes, it helps keeps me focused on what I'm doing. I generally don't even look around the room until a song ends. Trance music seems particularly suited for my study habits -- the repitition is actually desirable, since you can enjoy it without having to concentrate on any specific passage. The vocals typically repeat, so they're not distracting. The tempo is fast, and somehow encourages me to work more diligently. It kinda whips me up into a fervor.

    I also play the same movies over and over again while I'm studying -- old favorites like Pulp Fiction and The Matrix, etc. They don't demand any serious attention, since I could probably recite them both by heart now, but they provide the little 30-45 second breaks that I need periodically.

    So, I guess it's true that in my case, music helps me work faster, or at least more intently. I don't know that it makes me any smarter, but it certainly does seem to help me get things done pronto.

    - Warren
  17. Apr 19, 2007 #16
    Years ago I read about some research that showed a positive effect on learning, especially on memory, when info was presented to subjects while they listened to Baroque music, fugues by Bach for example. Supposedly it's the tempo that matters. I haven't seen anything since then, so maybe it was debunked.
  18. Apr 20, 2007 #17
    funny you should mention that recent Nature article said no, at least Baroque + baby not equal to Einstein. bUt who knows they may end up better electric guitar players.
  19. Jan 5, 2009 #18
    It really does depend on the person. Personally I prefer listening to music on the bus or when I am just sitting and thinking like on the train or the bus. When I am doing work I don't like to because there is to much noise.
  20. Jan 10, 2009 #19


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Like Evo, I cannot study or work well with music playing. Music seems to take over the same part of my brain that does programming and problem solving.
  21. Jan 11, 2009 #20
    I had a book about how to increase your learning abilities.sadley,my dog ate it:)
    but from what I remember,music composed by mozzart has this good efect,if you listen to it at a very low volume...it is called the mozzart efect!
    other tips are clear your desk of ANY objects besides the sheet of paper in front of you and the pencil in your hands,refresh the air in your room before you start studying(if you live in a very poluted area,you should buy an oxigen purifier,but usualy they make loud noise,so use it before you study...it realy helps to have 98% oxigen in your room)
    there was something about a yoga exercise,but I don't remember it...
    as for my advice...take a break every 50 minutes or so,to work permanentley at maximum eficiency.
    and most important(if you work in physics or similar) rite,or draw anything you think of...anything! alwais have a 3D view on the subject!even if it seems childish,do drawings as you interpret it...
    also,eat a lot of choclate(or other sweets) to keep the glucids pumping in(of course,don't exagerate)the brain uses 2 important substances:eek:xygen and glucids!
    naturaly,this is not recomanded for diabetics and similar.
    and remember...if you want your inteligence to rise,don't try those chemicals...they don't work...just work it...and you will see a huge diference!
  22. Sep 22, 2009 #21
    I have a further question for this debate. If you have conditioned yourself to focus and absorb information while listening to music when studying, how will you then cope in an exam situation where no music is permitted and ambient noise is minimal?
  23. Sep 23, 2009 #22
    I think I have an idea why it might be an advantage to listen to music or distract yourself in order to concentrate better. I also relate to interested_learner, I think better with a smoke/ driving/ instrumental music.

    If we look at the brain as just a muscle, lets say compared to a bicep, we would separate the muscles into two or three different parts with specific duties; parts of the bicep are more for lifting 90 degrees and higher while other parts of the bicep are for lifting 180 degrees and more. Similarly the brain has different parts for controls of body, senses, and cognitive thinking. Flexing the whole bicep will always give more concentrated strength than to only try to flex on small part of the bicep; working the whole brain, such as listening to music or driving a car, might help the small part of the cognitive functions in the brain. I'm thinking that it flushes more blood and energy into your brain.
  24. Sep 23, 2009 #23


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    The noise of adrenalin stimulated blood rushing through your brain might suffice as a sort of "white noise" in an exam situation.

    Grinding your teeth can be a comforting distraction when done so in a syncopated or, at the very least, catchy rhythm over the 2500 word, in-class essay assigned.

    Try not eating before the exam and have a soothing symphony of stomach grumbles carry you through the multiple choice.
  25. Jan 27, 2011 #24
    I apologize in advance if this has been said, as I have not read all the replies, and normally I don't even contribute one cent to discussion boards, but it's 4 am and I'm taking my second consecutive MCAT practice test, and I've truly found music useful. There are some caveats, however. First and foremost, in many testing situations, you will not be allowed to have music or anything as "background noise," so equal time (or a reasonably weighted balance) should be spent studying/reading both ways. That being said, I think listening to music or even LISTENING to a movie/tv show can be very helpful in studying. I'm no neurologist or psychiatrist and got a C in Psych 101, so take that into consideration, but it seems to me that a distraction is essentially anything that interrupts your train of thought. We have five senses and, therefore, there are five routes to distraction, with some being more prevalent than others. Given that you probably need your eyes to study/read, don't tie up that sense, but anything you can do to limit the infiltration of your other senses will likely help you retain focus. I'm a musician, so music is naturally more attention-grabbing for me in many ways, but I've found the key to successful focus when studying or reading or doing anything really, is listening to something familiar. Familiarity is key. When it's something you can play/recite/sing/etc in your head with little to no thought, it really won't be distracting, regardless of what so many neuroscientists say. It makes sense to me...and hopefully anyone reading this...that, though our ears are capable of hearing and isolating a tremendous number of sounds, the louder sounds will require more "computing time," so to speak. Now if those louder sounds are things we've heard before and need not pay attention to to enjoy, it will reduce the load on our brains (somewhat analogous to accessing RAM processes or cache'd websites). Long story short, listen to something you know and know very well. It'll lessen other auditory distractions and help you maintain focus. Cheers :) And happy studying...


    P.S. These types of things are very particular to the individual, so don't interpret this as "I should listen to music/watch TV while studying." It may only work for me because I (at least in my own mind) have a somewhat rare connection with music (not trying to sound elitist, I just assume less than 1/2 people play music...might be wrong). Just try and surround yourselves with familiar "distractions" that your brain can more easily tune out. As another example, my primary instrument is/are (?) drums, and I often "write" many ideas, in class or while studying, by tapping my fingers. I've found that what many perceive as nervous tapping is usually me "playing" something I already know (perhaps even to what I'm listening to) to free up part of my brain. It may not make sense to those who can't relate, but hopefully my overall rant makes a bit of sense. Bear in mind, however, that it is late and I am very tired, so this may all be nonsense. I'm curious as to what others think, though, presuming you've read this far.
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2011
  26. Jan 27, 2011 #25
    As far as i have heard and read, if you listen to music before studying it helps. the best all round is mozart and metal. It must up lift you so music with a bit of a powerfull feeling is good i think that is why metal and classical is high on the successfull list. but as for while studying not sure it depends on you and how you work best. If it helps you do it if not don't. But you cant judge let your grades judge. You may think it is best but maybe you like most people like music so it may feel easy but maybe your not studying as hard so look at the grades you get
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook