Research: music harms creative thinking - understand and discuss alternative opinions

    Specialists from Lancaster University found a negative effect of musical accompaniment on people's creative abilities. We understand the results of the study and discuss in which cases it is better to work in silence, and when music helps to solve creative problems faster. Photo Francesca Cappa / CC BY

    Music vs. Creativity

    In one of the recent scientific works of "British scientists" the hypothesis was confirmed that there is still an influence of background music on people's creative abilities. According to experts, music adversely affects people's ability to perform tasks that require "verbal thinking."

    During the experiment, volunteers solved the problem of "compound distant associations." Three-word series were offered to study participants. The task was to propose a word that would make it possible to compose a series of new words by combining with existing ones. For example, for “dress, dial, flower” the answer was “sun” - and the new words “sundress, sundial, sunflower”.

    The speed of solving problems was checkedin three different situations: participants listened to music without words, songs in an unknown foreign and native language.

    The results of the first two tests were compared with indicators when working in silence and with a quiet “library” noise, which consisted of illegible speech, typing sounds on the keyboard and rustling paper.

    It turned out that any music distracted the participants in the experiment and slowed down the decision process, and most of all the people worked most in silence and with “library noise”. The reason is that during the solution of tasks the test participants involved a verbal working memory, which “acts” not so effectively in the conditions of a changing sound background.

    Another study that revealed the negative impact of music on creativity was publishedin 2001. Its authors checked how musical accompaniment affects the speed of writing an essay. The results showed that when listening to music, test participants wrote more slowly and more often corrected the text than when working in silence.

    Alternative opinion

    There are also scientific works with an alternative opinion that in some situations one can observe the positive influence of music on creative abilities. Two of them immediately studied the relationship of musical accompaniment and the speed of solving "visual" problems.

    In the first work, the participants correlated paper figures of a certain shape in the folded and unfolded form, and in the second, they compared two figures rotating in opposite directions and determined their similarity.

    In both cases, problem solving was handled better when listening to music: in the first, the results were positively influenced by the works of Mozart, and in the second, the favorite songs of the study participants.

    Experts associate this effect with the positive emotions that people love their favorite music.

    Another example with a similar experiment showed the positive influence of music on the effectiveness of solving problems on divergent thinking , or the search for many answers to the same question. Its participants listened to classical music with a different "mood". It turned out that “happy” compositions positively influence divergent thinking - listeners offered more original and useful ideas than when listening to calm or sad music and when working in silence.

    The authors of the study explain this effect of “happy” works by the fact that they help listeners “believe in themselves” and look for solutions longer and more persistently.

    If you still choose music

    It is difficult to argue that silence affects the efficiency of work and creativity, but sometimes you can not do without music in headphones (for example, in open spaces and coworking). It is believed that some genres affect creative thinking better than others. The first one is ambient.

    When there are no sudden changes in the track, the brain is not distracted from the task, and productivity is not reduced . An alternative with a bit more variety is generative music. This is a continuous audio stream that collects a neural network from ready-made samples in real time. There is no abrupt transition or tempo change in such music, therefore it is almost imperceptibly integrated into the work process.

    Photo by Sergey Galyonkin / CC BY-SA

    For those who love classics, researchers recommend listening to music from the Baroque era - works by Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and other composers of the time. Suitable for work and works of the era of classicism. However, only works in a major key have a positive influence, for example, “Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos, D Major”.

    Soundtracks for games can also be used as musical accompaniment. They are specially created in order to maintain concentration, but not to distract the listener's attention to themselves. One of the most “productive” game soundtracks is considered the work of the composer Jerry Martin (Jerry Martin) - he wrote music for the games of the series The Sims and SimCity.


    The effect of musical accompaniment largely depends on the nature of the work and the mood of the listener. However, researchers agree that when solving problems related to text or finding the right solution to a problem, listeners of background music work less productively than in silence.

    The most optimal background for solving any problems is silence or white noise. The influence of the latter on productivity has been proven by research - under white noise, people performed calculations and memorization tasks better than with music or the sound of speech. This effect is used even by some coworkings, for example, the Boston WorkBar, which includes white noise in the “high productivity” zone.

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