Here’s a story to hide from your boss. Listening to music at work may get in the way of your productivity. A new study suggests that doing so may actually hurt work performance.
Researchers from the University of Wales examined how music preference affected performance. Can we work as well while listening to our favorite tunes compared to music we dislike? While previous studies have focused on participants listening to music before completing a task, this study required subjects to listen to music during task performance.
Researchers studied 25 undergraduates between ages 18-30 who volunteered to participate. Only those who disliked thrash metal were included in the study. In order to do the study, it was necessary to find a type of music that all participants agreed they hated to use as the constant.
The participants tried to recall a list of 8 consonants in the order they were presented while exposed to several different sound environments
- Liked, self-selected music (participants brought in one of their favorite songs)
- Disliked music (Thrasher music)
- Changing-state speech (a sequence of random digits such as “4, 7, 1, 6,” a chaotic sound)
- Steady-state speech (“3, 3, 3, 3,” a sound similar to a ticking clock)
Recall ability was poorest for the music and changing-state conditions. The best recall occurred during the quiet and steady state environments. In this study, listening to any music, whether liked or disliked, impaired performance. According to the research study, “Despite liking and deeming their self-selected music as more pleasant than the other sound conditions, their performance was actually as poor in this condition as in the condition with music that they actually disliked.” That’s right, even if it’s the music you love, listening interferes with your work.
This research suggests that peace and quiet may offer a performance edge. However, those performing repetitive tasks requiring less focus – moving boxes in a warehouse, for instance – might benefit from music in the background. In other words, it depends on the work. Additionally, there has been studies that prove listening to music before you work, can help motivate you and help you do your job.
Before you crank up that IPod, remember that a quiet area may be your best bet for efficiency on the job. Better yet, take a “music break” before tackling the task at hand.