- Preferred background music can improve focused attention and performance.
- Background music provides a positive and stimulating effect.
- If you’re doing any sort of mindless, repetitive task, music can help your brain filter out distractions.
Listening to music while carrying out certain tasks (like reading or driving) that require continued attention is common. Research shows that background music improves concentration (Mendes et al., 2021). Background music inﬂuences our mood and motivation and that in turn reduces distractions and improves focus.
Attention is a cognitive ability essential to our daily lives. Individual resources (i.e., cognitive ability) and environmental factors (i.e., the presence of reward or stimulation) inﬂuence attention capacity. Music as an external factor can improve attention. Music causes a narrowing of attention, allowing our minds to filter out distractions.
1. Music as a pleasant stimulus. Background music provides a positive and stimulating effect that could improve performance. When we are performing a boring task, music can stimulate our mind, resulting in better performance. However, a piece of music needs to be in the right tempo to be able to evoke the appropriate arousal and mood. For example, a loud and fast tempo increases driving risks by competing for attentional space (e.g., ignoring a red light). Attention needs to be attuned rhythmically with the music's meter.
2. Personal preference. Personal choice in music is very important. Listening to preferred or enjoyable music increases pleasant mood and arousal levels. The music you like increases focus, while music you don’t hinders it. Given the extreme variation in musical preferences from person to person, exposing your workplace to a single type of music would obviously result in mixed results. However, in the modern work environment, earbuds can create aural privacy.
3. Music without lyrics. Music without lyrics usually works out best. Music without lyrics tends to help people pay more attention. Music with lyrics can be distracting when a task requires high concentration. The challenge is to maintain a delicate balance of stimulation without distraction.
4. The listener’s mood. The effect of music on attention might relate to the different moods evoked by music. A piece of depressing music could sap your enthusiasm to perform a task. In contrast, joyful music is associated with greater attentional control. In other words, emotional appraisals from music may lead to different effects on attention. For example, a song that reminds you of a sad event can be distracting.
5. Video game music. Background music is an essential part of modern video games. Research points out that video-game music is one of the best genres for concentration (Zhang and Fu, 2015). Video-game soundtracks rarely have lyrics. They are designed to engage the player in the game. This makes sense when you consider that the purpose of video game music is to help create an immersive environment for the players.
In sum, research findings show that music can improve attention, especially listeners' preferred music or music without lyrics. Music in the workplace can reduce distractions and boost productivity. Music has a strong likelihood of keeping workers happy when they are doing repetitive and otherwise boring work.
Mendes CG, Diniz LA, Marques Miranda D. (2021), Does Music Listening Affect Attention? A Literature Review, Developmental Neuropsychology, DOI: 10.1080/87565641.2021.1905816
Zhang, J. and Fu, X., (2015), The Influence of Background Music of Video Games on Immersion, Psychology & Psychotherapy, 5:4.