With all the distractions in today’s world, it can be challenging to maintain focus. Email, social media, and the general busyness of everyday life can make it difficult to zero in your attention on a single task. Fortunately, certain habits can help enhance your ability to focus and concentrate. One of the easier and more enjoyable habits you can develop is simply listening to music. Experts reveal that listening to music can:
- Cause your brain to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter often referred to as the brain’s pleasure chemical, which can improve your mood
- Allow you to be more present
- Increase productivity
- Enhance your efficiency while performing repetitive tasks
- Spark your creativity
While music can help increase focus, its efficacy can depend on the genre of music. The following types of music have been shown, through research, to enhance your brain function.
A 2015 study published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America found that playing natural sounds in an office environment could improve workers’ cognitive skills and mood. The researchers also noted these effects could carry over into other environments outside the office. Participants in the study listened to sounds mimicking flowing water, but other natural sounds can be as effective as long as they are not distracting to the listener.
Music by classical composers such as Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven could be beneficial when studying for an exam or focusing on a work project. Researchers at the University of Helsinki recently discovered that listening to classical music can alter gene functioning, which can lead to numerous benefits, including improved brain function.
In a separate study published in Scientific Reports, participants—children (aged 8 to 9) and seniors (aged 65 to 75)—were asked to perform a task three times: first with a Mozart minuet playing in the background, second with a modified version of the minuet that had dissonant intervals, and third in complete silence. Both children and seniors performed better while listening to Mozart than while listening to dissonant music or no music.
Music You Enjoy
Personal preference appears to be another important component to music’s ability to increase brain function. Teresa Lesiuk’s study (initially mentioned above) allowed participants to choose the music they wanted to listen to. Generally, participants performed tasks quicker than those who did not listen to music while participants who were moderately skilled at their jobs benefited the most overall.
A theory as to why listening to preferred music can increase focus is it taps into regions of the brain that control your emotions. Listening to music that evokes positive feelings could lead to greater levels of productivity. Tip: Avoid music that evokes painful memories that may cause feelings of anger or sadness as it can make focusing more difficult.
Music Without Lyrics
You may find music with lyrics distracting, particularly when performing complex tasks that require problem-solving or high-level cognitive skills. In a 2012 study published in Work, researchers played music with and without lyrics for participants in a work environment and observed the effects on human attention and productivity. Background music with lyrics had a significant negative effect on concentration and attention.
Lastly, Focus@Will, a music service based in neuroscience, customizes instrumental music to help increase focus and decrease distraction while performing activities such as reading, writing, and working. The company claims that their instrumental playlists calm the limbic system, the part of the brain responsible for regulating emotion and memory, allowing listeners to maintain focus. To determine what type of music to play and when to best influence the brain, the app uses a wide variety of characteristics such as emotional value, recording style, musical key, and intensity.
Despite all of the scientific evidence, some individuals work better in complete silence. Ultimately, individual preferences and human differences will determine what works best. Whatever the case, the potential benefits of music for enhanced productivity make it worth a try.