You’ve heard the hype: Mozart turns babies into geniuses and if you have music as a crutch, not only is it easier to study, you’re also better at it. Better studying leads to better grades, or the ability breeze through any exam.
But is there more to the hype than meets the eye? Can music really help you absorb and retain information better?
If you Google this issue, you’re going to encounter a lot of opinions … but take a close look at the source. Outside of blogs, do any “real” sources have solid scientific backing? The short answer is that it all depends on you and your unique situation.
The 2010 study
In 2010, Adrian Furnham and Lisa Strbac published their findings in an issue of the Ergonomics journal. As it turns out, music isn’t very helpful if you’re an introvert: you’re likely to perform worse. But if you’re an extrovert, your concentration is the same as in a noise-free environment and might be a smidge better. Basically, the more extroverted you are, the better music can help you.
However, if you’re struggling with study habits, it’s better to try other strategies before adding music to the mix. A serene environment is crucial, so all those people you see studying on the bus are doing themselves a disservice.
Carve out your own comfortable, clutter-free study space and commit to a schedule. Don’t procrastinate, review at all times, and consider a tutor if you’re really having challenges.
The 2002 study
However, a seemingly unrelated 2002 article suggests there might be a place for music after all. A team of physicians published the article “Music and Preoperative Anxiety: A Randomized, Controlled Study” in Anesthesia & Analgesia journal which suggested that listening to music before surgery helped greatly with anxiety.
However, this can be applied to any situation that causes stress, such as right before taking that big test. In other words, having your iPod or other MP3 player on hand is the perfect distraction before busting out those number-two pencils.
The study required patients to self-evaluate their stress levels before surgery, but doctors also checked their vitals for cues such as heart rate, blood pressure, electrical activity, and serum cortisol. The end result was that listening to music pre-surgery “significantly” decreased anxiety by 16 percent.
Sixteen percent is a whopper of a decline, so just imagine what that plus good study habits can do for your test days.
The 2000 study
In an effort to answer the question “Does music make you smarter?” once and for all, Steven M. Demorest and Steven I. Morrison published their findings in Special Focus simply titled “Does music make you smarter?” The answer is yes … kind of.
“We are confident in this answer because there is a wealth of research that demonstrates without a doubt that music instruction makes students smarter in music.” Wait a minute; when did music instruction get into the mix?
According to this study, when people assume that music makes you smarter, the bulk of scientific evidence looks at whether professional musical instruction makes better musicians. That should be a given, but somewhere down the line it got mixed up. In the end, this study didn’t find that music (whether listening to it or playing an instrument) made you smarter in anything else.
However, that doesn’t mean regular study breaks aren’t important. You’ve been staring at a screen or paper for quite awhile, so give your eyes a break and your ears a treat. Choose music that suits what you’re trying to feel, whether it’s pumped up or calm and relaxed.
A local band with a diverse portfolio might be just what the doctor ordered.