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With exam season right around the corner, it may be difficult to fully concentrate. Studying may cause you to want to plug into your music and zone out from the world around you. 

And that might help you — but is listening to music actually beneficial when studying?

There is debate on whether listening to music hinders performance.

“As much as we think of ourselves as good multi-taskers, the reality is that we can really only devote concentrated attention to one thing at a time,” said Elizabeth Kinghorn, a PhD candidate for the Faculty of Music. “Studying effectively means being able to minimize outside distractions, and music certainly has the ability to distract.”

But Dr. Nick Perham, a professor at Cardiff Metropolitan University, argues that it depends. He says listening to music before studying can enhance performance, whereas listening to music while studying can affect your serial recall ability.

Serial recall is the ability to remember chronological events and is a part of your short-term memory.

However, according to Perham, if you listen to music you’re more interested in, it can improve mood and decrease stress.

Though Kinghorn says music can be distracting, she also cites evidence that listening to music affects our mood and impacts how we learn. 

“People in positive moods tend to perform better on cognitive tests, while negative moods appear to hinder cognitive performance," she said. "We perform best when we are energized enough to be alert and attentive, but not overstimulated or anxious."

So, what music should you listen to when studying? 

It's believed that no one music genre scientifically improves or decreases academic performance: one study showed that listening to classical music (the “Mozart Effect”) did not help long-term recollection or improve intelligence.

While it does not involve distracting lyrics, the Mozart Effect only temporarily improves cognition for 10 to 15 minutes, according to another study.

“How we respond to music is very personal and has a lot to do with our personal preferences,” Kinghorn said. “If you choose to listen to music while you study, your best bet is to choose something you like, regardless of genre, as liked music is generally more likely to put us in a good mood.”

Above all, the most important factor in deciding whether or not to listen to music comes from an understanding of yourself.

“It’s key to know yourself and how much music affects you,” said Kinghorn. “People differ in terms of the degree to which they are able to become absorbed in what they’re doing and ignore outside distractions." 

So, if Post Malone helps keep you on track, go for it. If listening to movie scores helps you concentrate on finishing that chapter, do as you please. 


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