Can music have beneficial effects on our productivity?

Some people swear that music helps them concentrate, replacing annoying distractions with something positive. At the other extreme, some people cant focus if theres even the faintest sound of music from another room. Marcel Proust wrote one of the greatest (and longest!) works of French literature while working in a cork-lined room to drown out the noise of 19th-Century Paris.

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Now we have some evidence from Nick Perham, a senior lecturer in psychology, and the findings are interesting. It seems that background music can help creative tasks, but in other areas, the effects are more complex.

Some early studies in this area showed that subjects performed a complex mental task better after listening to Mozart. However, tests soon showed that this effect wasnt confined to Mozart and that virtually any composer – or even a talking book – seemed to have the same effect.

Irrelevant sounds

Tests have shown that people perform less well when they do a task while an irrelevant sound is present in the background. If music is playing and people are listening to it while working, they dont concentrate too well. Were just not very good at doing two mental tasks at the same time, and performance of a task is better with no sound unless the sound is very monotonous.

The surprising thing is that this effect is noted whether or not the person likes the music that is playing. Therefore, people who say that listening to their favourite music helps them work may not be entirely accurate. If you are carrying out a task that involves words, listening to music that has lyrics interferes with the task significantly.

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Can music help productivity?

A study at Cornell University found that task concentration aside, happy music at work made people more co-operative and better team workers.

When we go to a store, if were comparing PC attributes, background music wont help. However, if were looking to put a fashion outfit together, in store music like that from probably will help.

The type of music and the type of task will determine whether the music helps the work get done more productively. If its a task with a creative element to it, music that the person likes can indeed help with the task.

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