Why Does Music Help Some People Study and Annoy Others?

What kind of atmosphere do you need when it comes to absorbing lots of information quickly? Do you need to be alone in a quiet room? Or do you find that things are better when you have some music playing? Which approach increases concentration and minimizes distraction?

Turns outs that there isn’t a “right” answer to this one. It depends entirely on the individual and comes down to a simple question:  Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

When it comes to studying, cramming or any kind of brain-intensive work, the trick is to find the sweet spot between the states of boredom, mind-wandering and low attention (one end of the concentration continuum) and stress, over-stimulation and panic. Music can help some people along that continuum where concentration is maximized–but not everyone.

Victoria Williamson, a music psychologist, says that if you’re bored and not really engaged in what you’re doing, a background playlist of favourite tunes can help focus your attention. It can get some people in the proper mood and get them excited about what they’re trying to learn. However, if you go into a studying task already mentally prepared, music can quickly send you past that optimum state of concentration into an abyss where you absorb nothing.

This brings us to the introvert vs. extrovert situation

Some people find music too distracting and find themselves singing along, tapping out a beat rather than concentrating on the task at hand or just losing the plot entirely. For them, silence is golden.

This is especially true for introverts, people who (according to Williamson) already have a higher level of internal energy and therefore don’t need a lot of stimulation from the surrounding environment. They go into mental tasks already close to that concentration sweet spot.  When introverts try to study, something like background music can quickly push them into that region of stress, over-stimulation and panic.

Extroverts–people who are energized by external stimuli–are just the opposite. Something like music charges their internal psychic batteries, making whatever they’re doing easier. Music helps them focus.

Learn more at the BBC.



Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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