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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
HJORTSBERG, R. W. (2001). The Effects of Different Types of Music on Cognitive Processes. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 4. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved September 26, 2023 .

The Effects of Different Types of Music on Cognitive Processes

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (bhalla@loyno.edu)
In our experiment we studied the effects of different types of music on cognitive processes of sixty-nine participants. The independent variable was music including Classical music, Moderate Rock, and no music conditions. Participants completed a “Memory Game” to assess their cognitive processing skills under one of the music conditions. We hypothesized that participants in the Classical music group would perform the best, then no music, with the Moderate Rock group performing worst. We did not find support for our hypothesis in our experiment. Instead we found that students performed significantly better on the memory test while listening to no music than they did while listening to classical.

For hundreds of years humans have been enjoying many unique genres of music. We have progressed through the ages with different sounds of choice. However, the main reason that people continue to invest their hard earned money into records and CD’s is because music makes them feel well. Many college students today listen to music while they are studying. Do they do this for pure enjoyment or do they do it to create a better learning environment? According to Warnock(1987) memory is the “essence” of your enjoyment. Does incorporating something enjoyable into the mental cognition process help that process; or does it in fact distract you from performing to your full potential? Smith and Morris (1977) did a study on the effects of music on anxiety, concentration, and performance. There were two different types of music that were studied. These two types were simulative and sedative. Before the participants took the test they were asked what type of music from these two groups they preferred. The participants were then given a set of numbers. They were assessed on how well they could repeat the digits backwards while listening to one of the types of music or no music at all. The results showed that the participants preferred type of music caused them to perform the worst on the test and that no music produced the best test results. The participants that were exposed to less stimulating music such as easy listening did better than those exposed to stimulating music, but worse than those exposed to no music at all. This was believed to be caused by the fact that stimulating music is more distracting and inhibits cognitive processing more than non-stimulating music. Tucker and Bushman (1991) did a study similar to the Smith and Morris study on the effects of Rock and Roll music on mathematical, verbal, and reading comprehension performance. One set of participants listened to Rock and Roll and the other set of participants listened to no music. Students were asked to answer mathematical, verbal and reading comprehension problems taken from the American College Test (ACT) and the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) while participating in one of the two groups. Their findings concluded that Rock and Roll music decreased the student’s performance on the mathematical and verbal part of the test. However, it did not affect their performance on the reading comprehension part of the test. This study also shows that stimulating music can have a negative effect on how well a student performs on cognitive testing. At the same time it also shows that in some cases of learning and cognitive processing it may have no effect.Banbury, Macken, Tremblay, and Jones (2001) reviewed a number of studies involving the effects of irrelevant sounds on cognitive processing. From their review they concluded that irrelevant sounds have a severe negative effect on memory, and an even greater effect on short- term memory. They also concluded that the main factor, which causes this disruption can be attributed to the “acoustic” changes in these sounds. It was found that irrelevant sounds that were repeatedly played were not found do be a disturbance to the participants memory. On the Website (academictips.org) students were asked where do they prefer to study. Most of them answered with places like the library or a quiet room in order to eliminate irrelevant sounds or distractions like the ones discussed in the Banbury, Macken, Tremblay, Jones study. For example one student stated that they liked to study in the honors college study room in order to get away from distractions such as family members, friends, the television and the phone. Another student stated that they enjoyed studying in the library in order to get away from such sounds as the phone, fridge running, the radio, and the TV. All of the studies and reviews previously discussed above essentially address the same issue. Which types of sounds will disrupt concentration and cognitive processing? They all go into great detail and scrutiny in order to determine what types of sounds and music effect memory and concentration in a negative way and what types of cognitive processes are most likely to be effected. However none of the former studies have set out with the goal to determine if certain sounds or music will facilitate a better learning environment and assist these cognitive processes. Our study was designed to do exactly that. We intended to see if certain music would actually help students concentrate better and increase their performance on memory tasks.In our study we had one independent variable (IV) with three levels, moderate rock, classical music, and no music. The dependant variable was memory. We hypothesized that participants in the moderate rock group would perform the worst on the “Memory Game,” the classical group would do the best, and the no music group would fall in between the two groups. Our rationalization for this study came from past research and our own observations. After analyzing past data we came to the conclusion that stimulating music would inhibit cognitive processing. However based on our own observations we observed that many students feel that quiet places such as the library do not facilitate a positive study environment. We feel that because there will always be some distractions, such as air conditioning, people talking, and moving chairs that listening to classical music will drown out these negative stimulations and provide a distraction that will be conducive to better cognitive processing.

ParticipantsForty-five male and forty five female undergraduate students from Loyola University were chosen by convenient sampling to participate in this study. These men and women ranged in age from 18-24 years old. Some students received course credit for their participation. However, all students who participated did so on a voluntary basis. The participants were divided into three groups of thirty. The first group was the control group. They performed the cognitive test with no music playing. The second group was the group that listened to moderate rock while performing the cognitive test. The third group was the group that listened to classical music will performing their test. Materials Two informed consent forms were used for this experiment. One was for the participants to keep and the other was for the researchers records. The participants performed the memory game on the computer while listening to no music, moderate rock, or classical music. The moderate rock section was represented by The Dave Matthews Band. The songs that were chosen for testing included Two Step, Ants Marching, Lie in Our Graves, and I did It. These songs were chosen because they were very stimulating and fast tempo songs. There was approximately thirty five minutes of music on the CD to ensure that time would not run out. The classical section was represented by Beethoven and Mozart. The songs that were chosen include Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and Mozart’s Piano Concerto’s. These are both very soothing songs that are quite sedative. They involve the use of very soft instruments. There was also approximately thirty-five minutes of music provided for this genre. The “Memory Game” employs a sequence of flashing symbols. There are twelve total symbols that can flash in any sequence an infinite number of times. The students were scored by how many times they could repeat the flashing sequence. This test was performed five times for each participant. The participants filled out a questionnaire designed by the researchers and a Profile of Mood States Test. The questionnaire consisted mostly of demographic questions such as age, sex and major. However there were also some questions about music preference and study habits. These questions were included to allow for correlation data analysis between music preference and distraction levels, and prior study habits and distraction levels. See appendix for the complete questionnaire. The Profile of Mood States test was given in order to assess how these different types of music made the participants feel at the time of the experiment. The test consisted of a list of sixty five adjectives. For example, “tense,” “clear-headed,” “confused,” “annoyed.” The participants were asked to rate on a scale from 0-4, 0 being the lowest level of intensity and 4 being the highest level, how they felt. Design and ProcedureThis was an experimental study which involved a single independent variable with three levels in a between subject design. The independent variable was the music. The three levels were moderate rock, classical music, and no music. The Dependant Variable (DV) was the cognitive processing abilities which was measured by the participants scores on the memory test. Before performing this experiment we had to make sure to account for some extraneous variables, which might have affected our experiment if we did not control them. We made sure that all the participants listened to the same songs within their respected groups. For example all participants in the Moderate Rock group listened to Two Step, Ants Marching, and Lie in our Graves by The Dave Matthews Band while performing the memory experiment. We made sure that the volume level was kept constant throughout our experiment for every participant. All participants used the same number of drums, twelve, while participating in the memory game. Finally we made sure that everyone performed the experiment in the same room to ensure that the environment would be the same for all participants. Once the participants arrived in the research room they were given two informed consent forms. The first one was for them to keep and the other one was for the records of the researchers. After the informed consent forms were filled out and the participants received an adequate explanation on how the study was going to work. After the study was adequately explained, the participants were instructed to complete a practice test of the “Memory Game” in order to familiarize themselves with the game. The first part of the experiment involved the participants completing five trials of the “Memory Game.” While this test was being performed the music was being played with a mixed CD created by the researchers on a portable CD player and computer speakers. The volume of the music was kept at a constant level throughout the experiment. Each Type of music provided was at least 35 minutes long in order to ensure that there would constantly be music playing while the participants were completing the study. Theparticipants were divided into the three groups which included, moderate rock, classical, and no music by means of random assignment. The first group of thirty participants performed the test without the presence of music. The second group of thirty participants performed the test while listening to moderate rock. The third group performed the test while listening to classical music. The songs that were choseninclude Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and Mozart’s piano concerto. After the participants completed the memory test they were asked to complete a questionnaire designed by the researchers and the Profile of Mood States test (see appendix). Once this test was completed the participants were thanked, debriefed, and released.

In our study we used a one-way ANOVA statistical analysis. Using this technique, we concluded that there was a relationship between the no music and the Classical music groups. The mean score of the no music condition was 8.44 (SD = 2.62). The mean score of the Moderate Rock group was 7.23 (SD = 1.69). The mean score of the Classical music group was 6.88 (SD = 1.89). The F test revealed that the means were significant (F(2,62) = 3.167, p = .049), however they did not provide support for our hypothesis. Even though the overall ANOVA was not significant we investigated further. We found that on the POMS test the participants reported a higher level of anger while listening to Moderate Rock than they did while listening to Classical music. The mean of the anger scores in the Moderate Rock group was 8.91 (SD = 9.26). The mean of the anger scores in the Classical music group was 3.60 (SD = 4.95). Finally, we found that students were more aroused when listening to Moderate Rock than they were when listening to no music. The mean of the arousal scores for the Moderate Rock groups was 2.77 (SD = 1.07). The mean of the arousal scores for the no music group was 2.14 (SD = .94).

We hypothesized that participants in the Moderate Rock group would perform the worst on the “Memory Game,” the Classical music group would perform the best, and the no music group would fall in-between. We failed to find support for this hypothesis. However, even though the overall ANOVA was not significant we investigated further. Through Post Hoc analysis we found that participants scored significantly higher on the “Memory Game” while listening to no music than they did while listening to Classical music. We believe that this occurred because Classical music was too distracting. When designing this experiment we hypothesized that Classical music would provide a positive background noise for the participants. Due to the relaxing tone of this music we assumed that it would make the participants feel calm and comfortable in this environment and in turn perform better on the cognitive processing test. We also believed that Classical music would be a good alternative to other distracting sounds such as the clicking of the mouse, participants moving in their chairs, and other people in the room making bodily noises such as coughing or sniffing. However, as our results suggest it seems that these distractions facilitate a better cognitive processing environment than that created with the Classical music. Our results seem to parallel very closely to those of Smith and Morris (1977). In their study they also found that participants performed better on cognitive processing test while listening to no music than they did while listening to either stimulating or sedative music. They reported that these results were caused by the fact that music, regardless of the type, is more distracting than no music at all. However, their results varied in comparison to ours when it came to the comparison of stimulating music and sedative music. In their study they did in fact find that participants performed significantly better while listening to sedative music than they did while listening to stimulating music. In our experiment we found no relationship between these two groups. Banbury, Macken, Tremblay, and Jones (2001) reviewed a number of research studies involving the effects of irrelevant sounds on cognitive processing. From their review they concluded that irrelevant sounds have a negative effect on cognitive processes, especially short-term memory. These results are what allowed us to hypothesize that confounds such as the clicking of the mouse, and bodily noises from participants would be more distracting than Classical music. We also found this review to be especially relevant due to the fact that the results inferred thatirrelevant sounds produced the greatest negative effect on short-term memory. This relevance was important to our study because we were testing short-term memory as well, with the “Memory Game.”After we completed our experiment we found that there were some confounds which may have affected the validity of our study. Throughout our experiment we kept the music that was being played in the Moderate Rock, and the Classical music groups at a constant level. However, depending on where the participants were seated in the room had an effect on how loud the music was heard. Therefore the participants sitting closer to the speakers heard the music much louder than those who were sitting all the way across the room. This variance in volume level may have either positively or negatively affected our results. Another problem with our study may have resulted from the participants’ previous experience with our cognitive test. After debriefing the participants, many of them reported that they had previously played the “Memory Game.” Whether or not they had ever played the “Memory Game” before was not a question on any of our questionnaires. However after realizing that many of them had in fact played this game we realized that if we had included this on our questionnaire we could have drawn conclusions about the effects this had on our results. While we may not have found support for our hypothesis we still can imply some practical uses for our experiment through analysis of our results. By determining that it is easier for the brain to process information while being presented with a minimal level of distractions we can imply that students should not listen to any music or provide themselves with any auditory disturbance while studying. Students should strive to encompass themselves in an environment that is as quiet as possible, such as the library or a private study room.Through analysis of our results it seems that the brains’ short term memory device processes information more efficiently while being presented with a minimal level of distraction. According to Marieb (1994) this phenomenon may be due to the role played by the neurons of the cerebral cortex. The neurons in the cerebral cortex are used for processing memory. They process information by receiving stimuli from sensory receptors and channeling this stimuli through the Central Nervous System to the cerebral cortex in the brain. For example, when the light flashes in a specific box during the memory game the brain processes this information through these sensory receptors in the retina and sends it to the cerebral cortex. However, these neurons are only capable of processing one piece of information at a time. That is why it is impossible to concentrate on music and attempt to perform the memory game at the same time. Another example would be trying to talk to the person sitting next to you in class while also listening to your professor. As we all know this is impossible. While the brain can process information in less than half a second it can only comprehend one piece of information at a time. While I feel that our experiment was very thorough there is still much room for future research. Soon we hope to add more conditions to this study and determine how other types of music such as Jazz, Rap, and Heavy Metal may affect participants’ cognitive processing abilities. We also plan to test whether different volume levels affect cognitive performance. Also, testing instrumental versus vocal music may also be a device which, will allow us to learn more about this field of study. Finally after carefully assessing our experiment we have determined that in the future we will create a better measuring device to test cognitive processing. We feel that the memory game was a sufficient tool however it may have been too easy for students on the collegiate level to perform well on this game. In the future we plan to use something more complex such as reading comprehension questions from the SAT. We feel that this will give us a more accurate depiction of the participants’ cognitive processing abilities.

Banbury, S.P., Macken, W. J., Tremblay, S., & Jones, D. (2001). Auditory distraction and short-term memory: phenomena [Electronic version]. Human Factors, 43, 23-24.Marieb, E. N. (1994). Essentials of Human Anatomy and Physiology. Redwood City: Benjamin Cummings.Smith, C.A., & Morris, L. W. (1977). Differential effects of stimulative and sedative music on anxiety, concentration, and performance. Psychological Reports, 41, 1047-1053.Tucker, A., & Bushman, B.J. (1991). Effects of rock and roll music on mathematical, verbal, and reading comprehension performance. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 72, 942.Warnock, M. (Ed.). (1987). Memory. London, Great Britain: Mackays of Chatham Ltd Kent.Where to study. Retrieved October 21, 2001, from http://www.academictips.org

Please record your scores for the Memory Game in the proper spaces.

Trial 1 2 3 4 5Score

Please take 5 minutes to provide us with the following information about yourself.1. Age ______ years2. Sex (circle one): M F3. Major_________________4. Year (circle one): FR SO JR SR5. GPA (circle one): 4.0-3.5 3.49-3.0 2.99-2.5 2.49-2.0 1.99-1.5 1.5 or below6. ACT/SAT:_______

7. Approximately how many hours do you study during any given week? __________

8. How often do you study while watching television? Never Sometimes Always

9. How often do you study while listening to music? Never Sometimes Always

10. If you listen to music while studying, what type of music do you listen to while studying? __ 11. What is your favorite type of music? __________

Please rate the following:12. How quiet is the environment in which you normally study?Very Quiet Somewhat Quiet Not Quiet1 2 3 4 5

13. Do you normally study alone or with others?Always alone As likely alone as with others Always with others1 2 3 4 5

14. Please rate your current state of arousalRelaxed Moderately Aroused Aroused 1 2 3 4 5

Submitted 12/14/2001 4:05:59 PM
Last Edited 12/14/2001 4:31:55 PM
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