Study music is an assistive technology commonly used to help children focus their attention on school tasks and assignments. Study music can be played over speakers to a group of students or through headphones to a single student. Despite being very popular, most research has shown study music to be ineffective at improving the performance on school tasks. In an experiment performed with students in grade 7 and 8, nearly 75% of the groups scored lower on a reading comprehension task when listening to popular music compared to when they performed the task in silence (Anderson & Fuller, 2010). In another study that looked at performance on verbal and abstract reasoning tasks, it was demonstrated that performance was highest when the tasks were completed in silence, lower when completed while listening to music, and lowest when completed in a noisy environment (Dobbs, Furnham & McClelland, 2011). Other studies have demonstrated that music with lyrics act as a distraction and can be detrimental for reading comprehension (Shih, Huang & Chiang, 2012), hence it is essential that study music is free of any lyrics.
If one were to want to use study music, the best form of study music is instrumental or nature sounds, such as rain. Research has shown that listening to instrumental music can enhance cerebral alertness which helps students focus their attention on specific tasks such as arithmetics (Proverbio et al, 2018). Another study observed that response rates of children with ADHD while performing GO/NO-GO tasks (pressing a button when a specific stimulus appeared on a screen) were higher in the presence of white noise than in silence, thus affirming their hypothesis that exposure to white noise provides a positive impact on cognitive performance for children with ADHD (Baijot et al, 2016). Baijot’s research supported the idea that children with ADHD have lower arousal level, meaning that they require more stimulation than typical students. This need for stimulation can make these students restless and inattentive, therefore, stimulation such as white noise can help meet this stimulation needs of these students and allow them to focus their attention on their classroom tasks (Baijot et al, 2016). A limitation to this test was that white noise was used as a stimulus to enhance performance on a specific GO/NOGO task, so the same results apply to all tasks being performed in a classroom.
In conclusion, most studies cited in this review indicate that music acts as a distractor for most students and has not been shown to increase performance. However, children who have ADHD may find it helpful to have background study music; this music should be instrumental and without lyrics.
Research Rating: Due to the experimental nature of the information cited in this description this information is to be trusted as valid and reliable.
White noise can increase student performance compared to working in a noisy environment, however silence is best (Dobbs, Furnham & McClelland, 2011)
Can enhance cerebral alertness and improve performance in tasks such as operational arithmetics (Proverbio et al, 2018).
Children with ADHD who have lower arousal could benefit from the external stimulus that helps focus their attention (Baijot et al, 2016).
Tasks such as reading comprehension, verbal reasoning, and abstract reasoning are generally performed worse in the presence of study music (Dobbs, Furnham & McClelland, 2011; Anderson & Fuller, 2010; Shih, Huang & Chiang, 2012)
Study music might not be beneficial to all students and for all tasks. If used, it would be ideal if the children had their own personal listening device
Study music should not have lyrics. Instrumental music, nature sounds or white noise is the best (Shih, Huang & Chiang, 2012)
Many apps have advertisements in the middle of playlists that might become distractive. Upgrading to the premium version would eliminate this
Spotify is not an application dedicated for study music, however it has many playlists that specifically contain study music
Special Consideration: Workflow
Exact prices change frequently, which is why only approximate ranges are listed.
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$$ - Between $6 and $50
$$$ - Between $51 and $250
$$$$ - Over $250
Anderson, S. A., Fuller, G. B., Anderson, S. A., & Fuller, G. B. (2010). Effect of music on reading comprehension of junior high school students. School Psychology Quarterly, 25(3), 178-187.
Baijot, S., Slama, H., Soderlund, G., Dan, B., Deltenre, P., Colin, C., & Deconinck, N. (2016). Neuropsychological and neurophysiological benefits from white noise in children with and without ADHD. Behavioral and Brain Functions, 12(11).
Dobbs, S., Furnham, A., & McClelland, A. (2011). The effect of background music and noise on the cognitive test performance of introverts and extraverts. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 25(2), 307-313.
Proverbio, A. M., De Benedetto, F., Ferrari, M.V., & Ferrarini, G. (2018). When listening to rain sounds boosts arithmetic ability. PLOS ONE, 13(2), 1-19
Shih, Y. N., Huang, R.H., & Chiang, H.Y. (2012). Background music: Effects on attention performance.
Work, 42(4), 573–578.
Written by Rudra Patel, Last Revision October 2018