Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wolfgang Makes a Bad Study Partner







 Source: Studying with music: helping or hurting?  article available at http://www.dailyillini.com/node/46005

This article comes from a student newspaper and addresses study habits related to music.  The reporter unpacks some common misconceptions about the Mozart Effect™ and why studying with classical music probably won't help you retain information. 

According to an interview the Gary Dell, who is a psychology professor at the University of Illinois, music interrupts the brain's ability to transfer memories from short-term storage to long-term storage.  The interruption is more pronounced when listening to music that one enjoys.  Where people misinterpret the Mozart Effect™ is assuming that since Mozart was a genius, some of that genius will rub off if you listen to his music while studying.  The reporter points out that the famous Rauscher study proved only a temporary improvement in spacial tasks and that any rousing music will probably have the same effect.

I picked this article for two reasons.  First, it's the end of term and it seemed like a pertinent topic.  Second, I've always been somewhat confused by people who say that classical music helps them study.  The article briefly ties together a couple of concepts that we have covered in class, namely the rehearsal process of transferring short-term memory to long-term memory and the Mozart Effect™. 

My personal experience with trying to study while listening to music is that I absolutely can't do it.  Judging by the comments in the article from Gary Dell I assume that those of you who study music students would agree with me.  If I have music on, I can't help but listen to it actively.  I listen for what instruments are playing, I notice when there is an interesting melody or harmonic shift, and I judge if the players are good or bad.  It's not possible for me to just ignore the music.  Likely the people who can listen to Mozart while studying are probably not the same people who are studying Mozart. 

If you still really want something to listen to while you study though, recent research by Jutras and Buffalo (2010) might have an answer for you.  They point out several studies have shown that rhythmic synchronization in gamma and theta frequencies can contribute to memory performance.   So, if you really want to ace your exams, listen to a binaural beats track that boosts gamma and theta waves.   Don't study with Wolfie.


Michael Kolk said...

I'm with you - I can't study with music at all, though my roommate who is also a musician (though not trained) does it all the time. I've also known people who fall asleep with music on (and not Dr Bartel's sleep cds - Guns n Roses!) I think some people get used to "background noise", and they can't concentrate, or fall asleep if it's too quiet. Now, Guns n Roses BEFORE studying - that sounds like a recipe for success.

Alina said...

I am with you two on this one. While background noise actually seems to help me study (coffee-shops, for example), listening to music seems to have the same effect one me as a person talking to me would have, while studying (nothing gets accomplished). I don’t think it is just the awareness of music – pitch, phrases, thematic contrasts, change of keys, anticipations of what is to come next in the music etc. – that disables us to be productive on a different task while listening to music. While I do believe that all those characteristics of the music play an important role in our inability to separate the 2 activities, I think there is also our engrained respect for music that won’t allow us to treat it as “background music” – respect for the music itself, as well as for its performance. In my own experience I noticed that background “pop” music does interfere as much with my concentration, unless I know the lyrics, which then in turn, would distract me and I’d probably start singing along.