Music Insights on Listening to Improve Your Performance at Work

Music plays an important role in our life. It influences our emotions, eases stress and tension, and has therapeutic value. For example, listening to music before a medical procedure, such as a colonoscopy, reduces anxiety. 

One of the questions people often ask is, “How does music influence our performance?” To answer this question, we have to distinguish between listening to music prior to work or when we take a break, and listening to music while we are working, as background music.

Music arouses different emotions that have a different influence on our cognitive performance. Studies show that participants who listened for ten minutes to a fast and happy Mozart sonata before they were given a cognitive task performed better than those who did not listen to music or listened to a sad and slow music. This was called the Mozart effect. Most researchers believe that music influences our emotions, which influence our cognitive performance.

So before starting to work on a task that demands analytic and or/creative thinking, take a break, and listen to happy music that you like.

As for background music, the findings are inconsistent. Some studies found that it improved performance, while others found that background music had a negative effect on various memory and reading tasks.

These inconsistent findings are not surprising. To evaluate the influence of music on our performance, we have to take into consideration many factors. First, it depends on the type of work we are doing. Some tasks are more complicated, some demand attention and memory, some demand analytic and/or creative thinking, and some are repetitive and boring. We also have to take into consideration the various characteristics of music such as genre (pop, classical, heavy metal, etc.), tempo, volume, and likability.

Here are a few general guidelines:

The type of music matters. For example, studies showed that listening to fast and loud music, such as hip-hop, while working had a negative influence on performance in reading comprehension. In contrast, listening to classical music that was relatively quiet and slow did not have a negative effect on performance. Other studies showed that listening to happy music enhanced creative ideas.

When you listen matters. The same type of music that enhances our performance when we listen to it before we start working can have a negative influence on our performance if you listen t

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