Some folks love listening to music while they work. They’ll blast it from their computer’s speakers if given the freedom to do so, otherwise you’ll likely find them pacing around their office, or even the halls, with their earbuds seemingly permanently planted in their their ears. Others don’t understand how they do it. For every person out there who loves listening to music while they work and who swears it makes them more productive, there’s another person who says they can’t concentrate at all with music playing, and feels they must ask coworkers to please, please, turn it down.
So, does listening to music at work really help us be more productive and creative, or is it just a big distraction — or do results vary from person to person, and if so, why?
Let’s turn to science for some answers. Here’s what we know.
- For some, listening to music is very important.
Some people have strong personal preferences when it comes to listening to music at work. Across multiple studies, researchers have found that when it comes to tuning in, results vary from person to person. But, some say that listening to music in the office is “very important to them in order to manage the auditory office environment and its distractions, to manage mood and internal thought processes, to accompany tedious work tasks and to inspire them,” writes Anneli B. Haake in a summary of her doctoral thesis on the subject. Unfortunately, not everyone feels this way. Others can find music distracting, especially when working on particularly demanding tasks. The use of headphones/earbuds can bridge the gap between these groups, making it possible for everyone to work in the way that’s best for them.
- It seems to have something to do with distractions and distractibility.
It’s interesting to note the complex way in which music impacts distractions. Music can itself be distracting, but it can also limit, manage, and ease distractions. It stands to reason that in an office environment that is particularly busy, noisy, or otherwise chaotic, a bit of music would have a more soothing effect overall than it would in an office that is otherwise calm and quiet. It’s important to note as well that the impact of these everyday distractions are experienced differently on an individual basis, so it’s important to know your office, and yourself, in order to determine what is best in your particular circumstances.
- Happy music makes people more cooperative.
Recently, researchers conducted a study involving 188 undergraduate students. The group took part in an activity which, in part, tested the frequency of cooperative versus self-serving behaviors when listening to different kinds of music. The findings indicated that when folks listened to “happy” music (these researchers used songs like Yellow Submarine, Walking on Sunshine, and Brown-Eyed Girl) they were more willing to act in ways that benefit the group, not just themselves. In other words, happy music made them more cooperative. No music, or “unhappy” music wasn’t found to have much of an impact in either direction.
- Music stirs emotion, so choose wisely.
Whether you’re listening to music on your own personal earbuds or playing it for everyone to hear, it’s important that you carefully consider the tunes that you choose. The good folks at How Stuff Works investigated the way music impacts mood and behavior, and they found that our brains process music emotionally. Fast-paced music, or tunes that are in a major key, cause people to breathe slightly faster, which is known to be a physiological indicator of happiness. The same is also true in reverse. A slow song, or one written in a minor key, can bring the mood down. So, set up that office playlist consciously.
When it comes to listening to music at work, it seems that the impact will vary considerably from office to office and from person to person. As is the case with most everything else, being mindful and considerate of those around you while also paying attention to what works best for you might be the best, healthiest, and most productive course of action in the long run.