Science 3 min read

New Study: Listening To Music Significantly Impairs Creativity

I know you love the Beach Boys, but your creative process doesn't. ¦ Stas Knop / Pexels

I know you love the Beach Boys, but your creative process doesn't. ¦ Stas Knop / Pexels

Do you need a pair of headphones playing your favorite music to get the creative juice flowing? According to a new study, it might be better if you don’t.

Recent studies reveal that background music does not increase creativity. In fact, it has the opposite impact on performance.

A team of researchers the University of Gävle and Lancaster University teamed up to investigate the impact of background music on performance.

In order to conduct the study, the researchers presented the respondents with a couple of verbal insight problems which entails a level of creativity. Then the participants listened to some music while solving the problem.

The result showed that participants listening to background music found it challenging to complete tasks that require verbal creativity. On the other hand, background library noise had no adverse effect.

As a result, the researchers concluded that listening to music while working “significantly impairs” creativity. But, how exactly did they reach this conclusion?

The Word Association Experiment

The researchers showed three words – for example, flower, dial, dress – to a participant. The task was simple, to think of an associated word that combines with these three words to make a common word or phrase.

In the example above, the associated word is “Sun’. Accordingly, the common word or phrase formed would be “sunflower, sundial, sundress.”

While a few of the participants were asked to complete the task in a quiet environment, the rest were exposed to music. These include background music with foreign (unfamiliar) lyrics, instrumental music with lyrics, and music with familiar lyrics.

According to Dr. Neil McLatchie of Lancaster University, co-author of the study:

“We found strong evidence of impaired performance when playing background music in comparison to quiet background conditions,”

The researcher explained that although it may have improved the moods of the participants, music disrupts the verbal working memory. Also, it doesn’t matter that the participants typically study in the presence of music; the result remains consistent.

On the other hand, results recorded from a quiet environment were similar to the library noise condition. The researchers explained that the library noise is a steady state environment. As a result, it is less disruptive than listening to a song.

Whether you’re listening to a piece of foreign music or instrumentals – maybe you only work while listening to Coldplay, the result is the same.

Ultimately, the presence or absence of semantic content does not stop music from disrupting creative performance.

Read More: How Music Streaming Helped Vinyl Make a Comeback

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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