APR 19, 2020 2:36 PM PDT

Does Listening to Background Music Reduce Creativity?

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Although music has long been thought to enhance creativity, new research says that it may actually have the opposite effect. According to the new study, listening to background music while performing verbal tasks ‘significantly impairs’ creativity. 

For the study, psychologists from the University of Central Lancashire in England, the University of Gavle in Sweden and Lancaster University, also in England, recruited 30 people to participate in a series of three experiments. 

In each of the experiments, the participants were asked to identify an associated word among three words and then demonstrate how it may be used to make new words and phrases. In one instance for example, they may have been shown the words: ‘dress’, ‘dial’ and ‘flower’. From there, they could have said that ‘sun’ is the associated word and can be combined with the other words to create ‘sundial’ and ‘sunflower’. 

In each of the three experiments, subjects were either asked to conduct the task in a quiet room or in a room with music with foregn (unfamiliar) lyrics, instrumental music with no lyrics or music with familiar lyrics. 

Music Production using GarageBand Windows Software

In the end, the researchers found ‘strong evidence’ that participants' ability to associate words decreased in the presence of background music compared to that in quiet conditions. In particular they noted that even if exposure to familiar music with lyrics enhanced mood, participants still exhibited less creativity than those in quiet rooms. 

The researchers said that this may be the case as music disrupts verbal working memory. They also found however that there was no significant difference in performance of the verbal tasks between those in quiet rooms and in rooms with ‘library levels’ of noise. They concluded that this may be because noises in the library occur ‘steadily’, and thus are not disruptive like music. 

"To conclude, the findings here challenge the popular view that music enhances creativity, and instead demonstrate that music, regardless of the presence of semantic content (no lyrics, familiar lyrics or unfamiliar lyrics), consistently disrupts creative performance in insight problem solving." say the researchers. 

Although interesting findings, as their sample size was small, further research is needed before these results may be considered conclusive. Moreover, the researchers’ use of a ‘verbal task’ may be a limited measure of creativity and should thus perhaps not be used to make broad conclusions about creativity in general. 


Sources: Science Daily, Wiley Online Library

About the Author
  • Annie Lennon is a writer whose work also appears in Medical News Today, Psych Central, Psychology Today, and other outlets. When she's not writing, she is COO of Xeurix, an HR startup that assesses jobfit from gamified workplace simulations.
You May Also Like
JUL 05, 2021
Neuroscience
People with Autism More Likely to Self-Medicate with Recreational Drugs
JUL 05, 2021
People with Autism More Likely to Self-Medicate with Recreational Drugs
Researchers from the University of Cambridge have found that people with autism are more likely than people without the ...
JUL 07, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
How Double-Stranded DNA May Play a Critical Role in Memory and Recall
JUL 07, 2021
How Double-Stranded DNA May Play a Critical Role in Memory and Recall
Breaks in DNA are typically associated with harmful conditions, and the cell has ways to repair this damage. But it's be ...
AUG 08, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
How Stress Can Impact Gene Expression in the Brain
AUG 08, 2021
How Stress Can Impact Gene Expression in the Brain
University of Bristol researchers have learned more about how chronic stress may be linked to health problems, both phys ...
AUG 24, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
A comparison of drugs for relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.
AUG 24, 2021
A comparison of drugs for relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.
     Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a rare and unpredictable autoimmune disease in which the body’s inn ...
AUG 28, 2021
Neuroscience
Postponing Retirement May Protect Cognitive Function
AUG 28, 2021
Postponing Retirement May Protect Cognitive Function
Retiring at a later age may protect against cognitive decline. The corresponding study was published in SSM- Popula ...
SEP 14, 2021
Health & Medicine
The New Social Darwinists: It's All About Survival at Any Cost
SEP 14, 2021
The New Social Darwinists: It's All About Survival at Any Cost
Researchers have found that people who perceive social relations in general Darwinian terms tend toward various personal ...
Loading Comments...