Health & Wellbeing

Listening to music may be damaging your creativity

Listening to music may be damaging your creativity
The study indicated that creative performance dropped significantly when listening to music
The study indicated that creative performance dropped significantly when listening to music
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The study indicated that creative performance dropped significantly when listening to music
The study indicated that creative performance dropped significantly when listening to music

The results of a new study suggest that listening to music can significantly impair your ability to perform creative tasks. Whilst music was found to disrupt creative processes, ambient "library noise" was found to have no significant effect.

Ask a group of friends whether listening to music while working get the creative juices flowing, and you'll be practically certain to find anecdotal arguments supporting both sides. A new study sought to answer the divisive question by putting volunteers through a series of tests.

Participants in the project all spoke English as their first language, and had no deficiencies of sight or hearing. Three experiments were conducted in which the volunteers were asked to carry out a series of tasks commonly used to measure creative verbal performance. For example, an individual would be presented with a set of three words, like stick, maker and point, and asked to find the linking word. In this example the answer would be "match."

During each experiment the participants were asked to perform the exercises in a quiet setting, and then while being played music, or ambient noise.

The first experiment saw volunteers complete tasks while being played music with vocals that wouldn't mean anything to them – for example, English-speaking listeners being played music with Spanish lyrics.

In the second experiment, the participants were played instrumental music with no vocals, and in the third the volunteers were played music with familiar lyrics that they could understand. During the third experiment, the participants were also subjected to "library noise" conditions, which involved ambient noise such as unintelligible distant speech, photocopier noise, typing, and the rustling of papers.

The team discovered that creative performance dropped significantly when listening to music over the course of all three exercises, as compared to periods during which participants were allowed to complete the exercises without distraction. Even when participants declared that the music improved their overall mood, in the third exercise, it still impaired creativity.

Whilst music was found to be detrimental, the library noise conditions made no significant impact to creative performance. According to the researchers behind the study, this could be because it is a steady noise, whereas music with or without lyrics is characterized by changes in pitch or tone. It is believed that these state-change characteristics could be affecting performance by interfering with verbal working memory.

"To conclude, the findings here challenge the popular view that music enhances creativity, and instead demonstrate that music, regardless of the presence of semantic content (no lyrics, familiar lyrics or unfamiliar lyrics), consistently disrupts creative performance in insight problem solving," the researchers state.

A paper on the study – which involved scientists from the University of Central Lancashire, University of Gävle in Sweden, and Lancaster University – has been published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology.

Source: Lancaster University

F. Tuijn
It depends on the creative task. For an engineering project I need to think of shapes. I found it easier to do so while listening to live music, Mozart and similar.
Captain Danger
I find it more difficult to program when music is playing than when it is not. A baseball game or standard noise in a factory no problem, but music or a television in the background and I become less productive.
It makes sense. Despite our perception, humans are notoriously bad at multitasking, even when we're not consciously trying to do it. Music engages the brain to recall, interpret, analyse, anticipate or otherwise process the tunes, distracting from other tasks at hand. Same reason it's hard to work on something when someone won't stop talking to you.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
Music that covers distracting conversation or irritating sounds will improve concentration. Entertaining music can make a boring task move faster. Music definitely helps with driving. Silence or white noise is better for hard analytical problems.
I like that there's an audio version of this article. Will listening to it damage my creativity?:) #irony
It seems this experiment used pre-selected music, which was likely unfamiliar to the subjects and requires a large amount of brain power to process. Most people who listen to music while working listen to music that they are intimately familiar with, which will require much less brain power. They should have had the subjects bring their own preferred music.
Music appreciation and learning an instrument has been proven to raise your IQ leading to a better life. Using music as padding "noise" is an insult to music and your creativity. Do one or the other but not both - that's a proven fact. I read a master's book on animation once and the first thing he said was DO NOT have music on in the background when you are working, it will interfere with your processing and attention that should be focused on your drawing.