The Effects of Music Appreciation on Test-taking Ability
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
METZNER, S. M. (2004). The Effects of Music Appreciation on Test-taking Ability. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 7. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

The Effects of Music Appreciation on Test-taking Ability

Sponsored by: ELIZABETH HAMMER (
Many studies have examined the effects that music has on thinking, but have not consider the extent to which participants enjoyed the music used. This study researched whether the appreciation of music could affect test-taking ability. Participants were all Loyola undergraduate students who volunteered in order to fulfill their class credit. They were divided into 3 groups. The participants were asked to take the test either listening to their favorite music or least favorite music, or in silence, depending on the assigned group. The hypothesis in this experiment was that participants who listened to their least favorite type of music would score lower on the SAT analogy questions than the participants who listened to their favorite music type of music. The music, which was the independent variable, was assigned by the genre that the participant preferred or disliked. The dependent variable, test-taking ability, was measured using SAT questions taken from the analogy section. The groups did score as we predicted, but the difference was not significant; thus there was not enough in order to support for our hypothesis.

Ryan Lessl and Simon MetznerThere have been many studies that have focused on the effects that sensory stimuli have on thinking. For example the whole field of art therapy focuses on how people are affected by certain pictures, or rather certain visual input (e.g., Delshadian & Van der Veen). Research has found that there are many other modes of communication by which therapists may find significant information that can help them treat their patients (Aldridge, 1996, 85). Much of this research is beneficial for alternative psychological treatments, such as art and music therapy. Most of the research, done in the fields of music and art therapy, has been conducted in order to find new media that can express clinical change within patients (Aldridge, 1996, 85). The belief, which many of these music therapists and art therapists hold, is that the non-verbal communication by patients may provide more vital details needed for his/her treatment. There has been a lot of success in these fields when the results of the treated patients are examined. Research dealing with physiological responses to music and sound stimuli has shown that music can grip the very logic by which we operate mentally and physically (Hodges, 1996, 343). County and Charpentier used whistles, to increase the heart rate in dogs (Hodges, 1996, 344). There has also been some research that suggests that music and art have the ability to change our perception and cognition (e.g. Cohen, 2002). Though no research has found any indicators as to how these effects come about. No studies have examined the effects that the preference of music has on individuals. This individual preference may have great bearing on the effect the music has on the cognition of the individual. In this study music is our Independent variable. Cognition has been tested in many ways. In a study that examined the effects of music on cognition the AH4 group test for intelligence was used (Cockerton, et. al., 1997). In another similar study the researchers simply required the subjects to recall words either from short term or long term memory (Blanch, Bowman, Mohler, 1992). Our dependent variable in this study is test-taking ability. In this study we will be using SAT analogy questions in order to assess the test-taking abilities of our participants who will be listening to either their favorite or least favorite type of music, or they will be in the silent condition. Many psychologists’ researches have found varying effects that music has on our test taking ability. (e.g., Blanch, Bowman, Mohler, 1992; Cockerton et al., 1997; Furnham & Strbac, 2002). Some research has found that it was beneficial to our test-taking ability (Cockerton et al., 1997) and others have found that music is just as distracting as noise (Furnham & Strbac, 2002). Though both of these studies used different types of music, and did not compare their results to the studies that used different types of music. The study in which the researchers found that music was just as distracting as noise they used grunge rock. In the study in which the researchers found that music was beneficial to an individual’s thinking, the music used was solely designed to improve concentration. They used music from the software package Koan Plus, which created music on the spot based on Japanese Buddhist philosophy that encourages meditation for the quest of understanding (Cockerton, et. al., 1997). So the results found, that music is beneficial to test-taking abilities, was not a big surprise, the overall study had a lot of power. The problem with many of the studies which examine the effects of music on cognition is that they do not include other types of music, and see music as one type of music. Also in both studies the music used was arbitrary to the participants’ personal preference of music. In this study we attempted to find whether the individual preference of a certain genre of music could affect the individual’s test-taking abilities. This is an area that has not been studied and may increase our knowledge of why exactly music effects on us cognitively. Can the subjective taste of an individual determine how much music can affect his/her cognition? Our hypothesis is: participants asked to listen to their least favorite type of music will score lower then the participants who will be asked to listen to their favorite music.

Participants Participants are all Loyola University students, mainly from the Psychology department. They all volunteered to participate and they were given credit for their participation in their Introduction to Psychology class. Materials We will be using various CD’s that we have obtained thought the music library and through our own personal collections. The genres of music range from operas by Wagner to Heavy Metal by bands such as Cannibal Corpse. We will be using fifteen analogy SAT test questions, all from the middle difficulty range. (Princeton Review, 1994)Design and ProceduresThis study is a between group experimental design. When the participants arrive, they will be asked to have a seat and sign the consent form. Then they will be told that the researchers are examining the effect of task-complexity on enjoyment of music listening experience and asked to complete the pre-task survey, which will inquire about basic demographics (age class and major) and their favorite and least favorite genre of music. Upon completion, they will either receive a randomly assigned cd (they will be randomly assigned to either their favorite or least favorite genre), a pair of headphones, and the SAT questions, and instructed to answer the questions with the music playing in their headphones (we start the music ourselves and monitor the volume and that the CD player stays on during the entire test) or they will be assigned to the control group and take the test in silence. They will be given as much time as they need to finish answering the questions. After the completion of the fifteen analogy SAT questions, a second survey will be handed to them, asking them how much they enjoyed the music that they were listening to on a 7-point Likert scale. This is so that we may assess the actual appreciation of the randomly assigned CD, since this is vital information for our study. In debriefing we will tell the participants that we were actually studying the effects of musical preference on cognitive test performance.

The final sample consisted of 47 college-aged participants. 26 were assigned to listen to their favorite music, 11 were assigned to their least favorite music and 11 were in assigned to the silent control group. We ran an independent samples t-test to see if the participants who were assigned to their favorite music actually appreciated the music, and the participants assigned to their least favorite music actually disliked the music. The t-test proved that we had succeeded in doing so (sig. =.001). The mean test score for the favorite music condition was 10.12 out of 15 (SD=2.53), for the least favorite condition the mean was 9.55, (SD=1.75) and the mean for the silent condition was 9.90 (SD=2.69). The overall mean of the scores was 9.94 (SD=2.37). Our hypothesis was that participants asked to listen to their least favorite type of music will score lower then the participants who will be asked to listen to their favorite music. We ran a one-way ANOVA test in order to investigate score differences between the three groups. There was no significant difference between the scores of the groups (F (2, 44) =.217).

Our hypothesis was participants asked to listen to their least favorite type of music will score lower then the participants who will be asked to listen to their favorite music. This study did not support this hypothesis. The participants who were asked to listen to their favorite music scored slightly higher (10.12) then those who were asked to listen to their least favorite music (9.55). The control group scored between the two (9.90). So there was in fact a small difference between the groups in the direction that we had predicted but overall the findings were not significant, thus they did not support our hypothesis. Unlike other studies, dealing with the effects that music has on thinking in general, (e.g., Blanch, Bowman, Mohler, 1992; Cockerton et al., 1997; Furnham & Strbac, 2002) which used only one or two types of music, we used many types of music to enable us to focus on the appreciation of music. Various types of music were needed to ensure that the participants really did enjoy or disliked the music we assigned since everyone has a different taste in music. The survey taken after completing the test revealed that we had actually been successful in assigning the correct music (that is, the people assigned to their least favorite music did not like the music we gave them). There are some possible reasons as to why our hypothesis was not supported in this study. Appreciating music could hinder normal thinking patterns. For example, it could be distracting in that the study participant would rather listen to the music rather than giving his/her attention to the test. Though the study did show that there was a very small increase in test scores when participants listened to their favorite type of music rather than when they listened to their least favorite music or no music at all. Also, participants did not necessarily take into account that the music may affect their test taking ability, and so did not choose that they would have felt adequate for taking a test. For example, a participant whose favorite music may have been Heavy Metal, probably scored lower than a participant whose favorite music was Classical music, assuming they were both assigned to the favorite music group. The design of this study was also very weak. Since appreciation is so subjective, just by definition, we would have had much more power if we had compared the participants to themselves in a within-groups study because, we could have seen how the individual scores varied for each condition. Also, letting the participant choose their favorite CD personally, instead of simply giving them one by the genre they desired, would have been much more appropriate in designating music that the participant actually appreciated or enjoyed. But we did in fact find what we had predicted but with too little significance, so possibly we did not have a good enough test. The test may have been more useful if it had more questions (for more variability) or more sections. It is possible that music appreciation affects different kinds of testing in different ways. For example, not listening to music, versus listening to your favorite music, could be more beneficial for math-based questions. If a study does prove that concentration is improved while listening to the music of preference it may be useful for a more effective study habit. That is, people may be able to learn better when listening to their favorite music. The greatest limitation in our study was the between groups design (instead of within groups) and the test (number of questions and types of questions).

Aldridge, David (1996). Music Therapy Research and Practice in Medicine. London UK: Jessica Kingley Publishers Inc.ATMA. (1999). Music therapy and Young children. Retrieved April 1, 2004, from, William R., Bowman, Kelly, Mohler, Lauri A. (1992). Music-dependent memory in immediate and delayed recall. Memory and Cognition, 20, 21-28.Cockerton, Tracey, Moore, Simon, Norman, Dale (1997). Cognitive test performance and background music. Perceptual & Motor Skills, 85, 1435-1438.Cohen, Annabel J. (2002). Music cognition and the cognitive psychology of film structure. Canadian Psycological Association, 43, 215-232.Delshadian, Suzanne (2003). Playing with fire: Art therapy in a prison setting. Association for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy in the National Health Service, 17, 68-84.Furnham, Adrian, Strbac, Lisa (2002). Music is as distracting as noise: The differential distraction of background music and noise on the cognitive test performance of introverts and extraverts. Ergonomics, 45, 203-217.Hodges, Donald A. (1996). Handbook of Music Psychology. San Antonio TX: IMR publishing.Rickson Daphne J., Watkins, William G. (2003). Music Therapy to Promote Prosocial Behaviors in Aggressive Adolescent Boys—A Pilot Study. Journal of Music Therapy, 40, 4, 283–301.

Submitted 5/11/2004 12:47:37 PM
Last Edited 5/11/2004 12:55:11 PM
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