“But listening to music helps me focus Sir.”
“But listening to music helps me focus Sir.”

“But listening to music helps me focus Sir.”

Teens wearing a single ear bud, teens sharing ear buds, using both ear buds… simply the prevalence of teens listening to something, whilst doing something else, is now culture. It is why quite a few teens and pupils generally, are more than happy to argue their case for listening to music whilst learning, whilst studying, whilst revising… whilst breathing.

I offer three different activities as each require a different level of attention, active rehearsal, remembering, relearning… hence music may have a varying impact. Add to that we have varying levels of prior knowledge or expertise, varying levels of task complexity and we haven’t mention of the type of music (lyrics or non-lyrics or white noise). I will acknowledge that wearing ear-buds / headphones may well mean others are less likely to seek your attention and you are less likely to be distracted by “cocktail party” distractions. (Where your attention to a particular stimulus, usually auditory, your name for example, grabs your attention unintentionally)..

Yes, music whilst learning, studying, revising has been done to death – but one more time…

Yes, listening to calming music (or bird song, for example), often encourages calm learning and learners tend to do better on their tasks. However, music that has lyrics has been found to significantly decrease performance and learning for many learners. More often that not, the implication is that learning whilst listening to music creates an attentional conflict. This may be more significant when learning, where active rehearsal is more prominent.

Marsh et al. (2018) looked into how music affects memory. They tested people in different setups: quiet, favourite tunes, tunes you’d rather skip, steady talking, and random chatter. Both the music situations and the changing chatter impeded recall more than silence or “steady noise,” – what I have referred to as white noise. I know – hardly revolutionary. From what I remember, Perham and Vizard (2010) reported similar findings, with “acoustical variation” impeding recall and the ability to order items via rehearsal (think mental arithmetic).

Is that different from studying / revising? Possibly? However diverting attention is rarely, if ever a good thing.

Rather than be proscriptive, I encouraging quite working environments, and say to the pupils, “give yourself the opportunity to relearn.”

Marsh, J. E., Hughes, R. W., & Jones, D. M. (2018). Auditory distraction in memory tasks: A review and meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 144(10), 998–1026. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000159
Perham, N., & Vizard, J. (2010). Can preference for background music mediate the irrelevant sound effect? Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24(4), 509–516. https://doi.org/10.1002/acp.1560

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