A new study find that listening to music while performing a task can impair cognitive ability.
Researchers divided participants into three groups — one listening to music they liked, one to music they didn’t like, and one with no music:
The most accurate recall occurred when participants performed the task in the quieter, steady-state environments. Thus listening to music, regardless of whether people liked or disliked it, impaired their concurrent performance.
One of the study’s authors concluded:
“Most people listen to music at the same time as, rather than prior to performing a task. To reduce the negative effects of background music when recalling information in order one should either perform the task in quiet or only listen to music prior to performing the task.”
This reflects my experience in the classroom (and my own personal experience). I use music a lot with English Language Learners as parts of lessons, and use music in lessons with our mainstream English classes when studying Bob Marley and, also, New Orleans. But they are always specific parts of lessons. Any time I acquiesce to student pleas to let them listen to those music examples outside of those specific lessons — for example, if they are working on a group project or during silent reading, it becomes an obvious distraction and I usually turn it off relatively quickly.
However, there is an important caveat — I have found that a few students who face particular challenges actually work better if they are listening to their own mp3 player at times, and have made individual agreements to let students sometimes use them.
Several years ago, when I was teaching a particularly challenging class, having students close their eyes for a couple of minutes after lunch and listen to soothing music also worked well as a calming influence. But they did not have to perform any task other than calming down, and the study does point out that music can “very positive effect on our general mental health” in that kind of situation.
What has been your experience with music in the classroom?