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article imageScience: Listening to music while working impairs creativity

By Tim Sandle     Mar 11, 2019 in Science
Lancaster - Should you listen to music while you are working? For many this is down to individual preference, and many find music helps develop the muse. New research, however, finds that, overall, playing music whilst working inhibits the creative tide.
The opinion that music boosts creativity has been overturned by scientists from Lancaster University in the U.K. Not only is there no strong evidence that creativity is boosted, the researchers find that the opposite is often true: that listening to music disrupts the creative process. by researchers who say it has the opposite effect.
The research is the outcome of a psychological study, assessing the effect of background music on people's performance. The study involved giving test subjects various verbal insight problems (designed to tap into creativity) and then seeing what the effect of background music was.
For the test, the scientists ran three experiments involving verbal tasks. These were conducted in either a quiet environment or while subjects were exposed to background music with foreign (unfamiliar) lyrics; instrumental music without lyrics; or music with familiar lyrics.
The actual tests consisted of activities like each participant being given three words (such as dress, dial, flower) and asked to find a single associated word (in this case "sun") that can be combined to make a common word or phrase (like sundress, sundial and sunflower).
On assessing the results, lead researcher Dr. Neil McLatchie noted: "We found strong evidence of impaired performance when playing background music in comparison to quiet background conditions." It is reasoned that creativity is stymied because music disrupts the verbal working memory.
The experimental outcomes are expanded on in the following video:
This finding contrasts with other studies that show the opposite. For example, different research from Radboud University Nijmegen suggests that listening to happy music (defined as classical music high on arousal and positive mood) promotes more divergent thinking, which is seen as a key element of creativity. See: "Happy creativity: Listening to happy music facilitates divergent thinking". published in PLoS One.
Research paper
The research has been published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, with the peer reviewed paper titled "Background music stints creativity: Evidence from compound remote associate tasks."
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This article is part of Digital Journal's regular Essential Science columns. Each week Tim Sandle explores a topical and important scientific issue. Last week we profiled a new rapid microbiological method that can be used to determine if bacteria carry a gene that can cause resistance to two common antibiotics. The test has been targeted against ‘strep throat’ and other respiratory illnesses.
The week before we found out that the chemical triclosan, found in many household products, like toothpaste and mouthwash, has can inadvertently make some bacteria more resistant to antibiotics.
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