Can music help you concentrate better? That depends

When it comes to finding a musical soundtrack to help you focus better, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, says Prof. Nathalie Gosselin of the Université de Montréal.

Serena Hedison / Postmedia files

WhIch kind of music helps you concentrate better: Mozart or Metallica? Beethoven or the Beastie Boys? Louis Armstrong or Billie Joe Armstrong?

When it comes to finding a musical soundtrack to help you focus better, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, says Prof. Nathalie Gosselin of the Université de Montréal’s International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research (BRAMS).

“Certainly, we would like to have the magic music that will make everyone focus, but unfortunately, what might work for one individual may be annoying for someone else or even interfere with their concentration. There is little chance of finding music that will work for everyone,” she said.

In 1993, a report in the journal Nature by Frances Rauscher, Gordon Shaw and Catherine Ky of the University of California at Irvine claimed that listening to Mozart for 10 minutes produced a “Mozart effect” that improved spatial reasoning.

However, subsequent studies cast doubt on the finding, some suggesting it’s not the Mozart that improves cognitive ability but the way music affects your mood and state of mind that can help you perform tasks better.

In January 2018, journalist Sara Chodosh reported in Popular Science magazine that the best music for focussing on a task is video game soundtracks.

“It’s a whole genre designed to simultaneously stimulate your senses and blend into the background of your brain, because that’s the point of the soundtrack,” she wrote.

However, Chodosh did not cite any scientific studies to support the conclusion. Gosselin maintains there is no clear-cut evidence proving that one particular type of music works for everyone.

The problem with scientific research into whether music can help people concentrate on a task is different studies measure different things, she said.

For example, doing the dishes and filling out your tax return are very different activities that might prompt different musical choices, she noted.

“Even if there is no magic music, there are some recommendations,” Gosselin said.

If you are working on a language-related task, experts advise not to choose music with words, she noted. Music with a fast tempo tends to energize you, while laid-back rhythms relax you.

Research in recent years has shown that the beneficial effects of music extend beyond Mozart to any music that makes you feel good, Gosselin said.

“They made an interesting demonstration by asking young teens to listen to music that was popular with them, and they observed the same effects of improvement on cognition,” Gosselin said.

“It’s not the type of music as such.”

 

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