I am sure many of us have tried studying while listening to music, and I am sure some loved it and some haven't tried it again. Mostly, the idea around listening to music while studying seems to be one of personal preference, as individuals have their own study habits. For those who prefer silence, they claim music is distracting, and for those who enjoy headphones, they claim music is stimulating. I fall into the prior category, although a very close friend of mine falls into the latter. Granted, I have always felt there must be an explanation for both.
While browsing online, I came across an article published by CNN that was both enlightening and unbiased. Essentially, there seems to be two types of tasks that students would engage in when doing work. The first would be studying, committing formulas, history dates, or artist names to memory before exams. The other work would be more of homework type tasks, repetitive assignments that simply require completion. The distinction, according to what I read, seems to be crucial in determining weather or not to listen to music.
According to a study at the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff, United Kingdom, researchers looked at participant's capacity to memorize information while listening to an array of sounds. Told to memorize a list of letters in order, the students were tested after studying in complete silence, music they liked, and music they didn't like, among other sounds. As stated in the CNN article, "The study found that participants performed worst while listening to music, regardless of whether they liked that music" and "they did the best in the quiet" or completely silent environment.
The authors of the study, Nick Perham and Joanne Vizard, believe that the music impairs the cognitive abilities in these scenarios because when individuals are trying to memorize data they are thrown off by the changing words and notes within the music. Accordingly, it would seem harmful to listen to music while committing information to memory before an exam.
Although, the authors of the study also noted that, as stated in the article, "when you hear something you like, it heightens your arousal and mood, which improves performance", which may be the reason that many individuals find benefits of listening to music when doing tasks that don't require memorization. The engagement of the changing notes may keep the brain stimulated and allow individuals to continue a task for longer periods of time. Weather it's cleaning ones room, or repeating the same math problem tediously, the music can provide added pleasure to seemingly mundane events.
So next time you have an exam coming up, perhaps only listen to music before you start studying to increase your cognitive abilities; but to listen to music during studying, well, seems ill advised. As for those tedious homework assignments, music could prove to be beneficial, helping to pass time and maintain engagement into the task.
Except, these findings do not discredit anyone's personal experiences, which are ultimately the best evidence in forming ones own study habits. I am curious, what methods seem to work for you? What are your experiences with listening to music while performing such tasks?