Music is arguably the most popular human invention of all time, dating back thousands of years and continually evolving throughout time. The construction of music is creative genius, but can music itself impact our own creativity and productivity? We often hear, music is the food for the soul, but can it also feed the brain?
There are three types of people in the office, the one who turns the radio on as soon as they walk in, the one who puts their headphones in the moment they sit down and those who need to work in complete silence. Which of these three are most likely to have the highest levels of productivity? Or are there more factors to consider?
Firstly, music can give you a motivational boost at the start of your day, how often do you see people on the commute to work with their headphones plugged in, in a world of their own? Pleasing and up-tempo music can improve your mood and help motivate you for the beginning of your working day. It can also be argued that having the radio on the background once you are in the office can help improve employee happiness; they enjoy the music, can be a mood booster in the office and can be seen as a nice break away from repetitive tasks. Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin advocates listening to music during mundane and monotonous jobs. This is because listening to music during these tasks helps lift spirits and raise stimulation levels which lead to higher concentration.
Some workers within a creative background might argue that background music helps get their creative juices flowing, and this is backed up by research with claims ambient music of can help with creativity. However, this atmospheric music needs to be of moderate levels, as loud music can hinder concentration.
With the growth of large, open plan offices, it is difficult to have background music which reaches and pleases everyone, so some office staff might choose to plug in their headphone and listen to their own music. This can benefit employees working in large, busy and noisy offices as it can be seen as an escape and the music, instead of being a distraction itself, can help from the distractions of your loud co-workers. This also allows one to listen to the music of their choice, not everyone wants to listen to the cheesy 80’s power ballads like you do.
Now, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but despite the many positive effects of listening to music in the work place, there are various researches to suggest that music flattens your productivity. According to Daniel Levitin, the quality of your performance during intellectual tasks suffers as a result of listening to music. However, he also suggests that you are blissfully unaware, and instead believe your productivity is improving, mainly because you are “having fun”. Levitin states that listening to background music puts you in a good mood and relaxes you but in doing this, it takes your attention away from the task at hand leading to poorer quality of work.
Other research suggests that productivity is hindered depending on the type of music one is listening to. Whilst partaking in complex tasks, modern popular music has a damaging effect due to the fact you are essentially multi-tasking; listening to, and potentially singing along to, the music can interfere with comprehension and information processing
Now, with all the research gathered, it is clear to see that background music can have varying impacts, depending on the type of tasks a worker is partaking in, and the type of music in the background. Whilst this research has been proven to some extent, it is hard to argue that whether music affects productivity or not is down to the individual. Some workers enjoy having music in the background which in turn increases and happiness and motivation which leads to an improvement in productivity whilst others see music as a distraction and need total silence in order to focus on the main task at hand. So to answer the original question, does music help or hinder? There is only really one answer, it does both.