There is only one door to the brain’s auditory gate

door to the brainDo you like to study with music in the background ?

Unfortunately neither Mozart, nor Lady Gaga are helping get those pesky facts into your brain.

This week’s Neurotechnology Tip encourages you to get your musical fix, between study sessions.

Music makes magic

There is no doubt about it, listening to music can alleviate stress and pick up your mood.

And being in a good mood, can help you be “in the mood” to study, BUT it won’t help you remember.

To optimize learning you need to shut out the beat.

The irrelevant sound effect

Research published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology found extraneous sounds i.e. sounds unrelated to the material being learned, made remembering tougher.

The research team tested the ability of volunteers to remember a list of 8 consonants in a specific order. The participants “learned” their list

  • listening to music they liked
  • listening to music they didn’t like
  • with no music i.e. silence

When the music was turned on, good or bad, it interfered with recall ability.

The sound of studying IS not silence

So listening to music whilst you are hitting the books impedes your recall ability, but silence is not a requirement.

The research talked about “irrelevant” sound effects.

To optimize learning you want to use all the major portals into the brain.

That means you want to hear it, see it and do it.

Auditory gate gets a little crowded

“Relevant” sounds will improve learning.

Relevant sounds could be reading the material out loud, or teaching it to a real or imaginary friend. You can do this with music in the background, but if both the music and the facts are trying to squeeze through it can get a little crowded.

The music will squeeze out those relevant facts.

Allow the facts to squeeze in

So if you want to optimize learning – keep the “irrelevant” music notes out.

Go quiet or go verbal, but don’t go bopping to the beat.

Can preference for background music mediate the irrelevant sound effect? Applied Cognitive Psychology (2011) 25(4) : 625–631. Nick Perham, Joanne Vizard


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