Listening To Music May Be Messing Your Brain’s Memorizing Capabilities

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Feb 17, 2015

A new study has recently discovered that as you grow older music tends to be more of a distraction rather than actually helping to memorize stuff. However when you are young, listening to music actually helps you remember things/information with more deliberation and you can integrate it into your daily lives to help you.

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If you can’t concentrate, try turning the music off!

The link between the intellectual capabilities and music at the workplace wasn’t a topic of interest for many researchers and so little was known about the link. But since it’s such an integral element of the common workplace, it seems a little strange and sometimes disturbing to not know how exactly this correlation works. Be it a radio sound or any fine sound tunes curated by a music expert, more or less everybody gets used to it eventually.

Researchers in Georgia Institute of Technology, US, categorically decided to analyze how working capabilities are affected by the music in the immediate surroundings. For that matter, the researchers took a handful of young university volunteers and some older adults. Once they had their desired set of people they asked them to perform a series of memory tests while sitting in complete silence for the first part and listening to music in the other. The researchers actually tested the associative memory testing skills. They showed people a series of faces and names and asked whether the face looked like it belong to the assigned name. Not only this, after a few minutes, this was done again to see whether they still remember the combination of the name and face that was shown earlier to them. This test was conducted several times sometimes in silence and other times music of different types was played in the background ranging from innocuous sounds of rain to what was described by the researchers as ‘non-lyrical rock music’. During this experiment the volunteers were also asked to rate the type of music being played on a level of how disturbing it was found to be.

The researchers found that even though all participants complained about the music being much more of a distraction rather than help the university students found it easier to retain in their memory the names and faces shown to them. There was found to be no apparent distinguishing factor between the two scenarios in case of the university students, but the older folks remembered ten percent fewer names when they were trialed with music in the background.

“Despite the fact that all participants rated music as more distracting to their performance than silence, only older adults’ associative memory performance was impaired by music,” The team reported in the Journal The Gerontologist. “These results are most consistent with the theory that older adults’ failure to inhibit processing of distracting task-irrelevant information, in this case background music, contributes to their memory impairments.” However ,”these data have important practical implications for older adults’ ability to perform cognitively demanding tasks even in what many consider to be an unobtrusive environment.”

The study showed two productive ideas that can be a playing a vital role in the difference between young and old people reactions to music. One could be that growing older makes you less focused towards a task and also that it becomes difficult to turn down the distractions (if any) while performing a task, which is known as the cocktail party effect.

“The cocktail party effect is the phenomenon of being able to focus one’s auditory attention on a particular stimulus while filtering out a range of other stimuli, much the same way that a partygoer can focus on a single conversation in a noisy room”

Second could be that associative memory declines with the passage of time and is a part of growing older. So eventually it gets hard for older adults to memorize and perform tasks while having a few distractions like music around.

The researchers also explained the importance as:

“They should be mindful of their surroundings. Maybe employees should turn off music during learning activities or hold them in a quiet room,” one of the team, psychologist Audrey Duarte, said in a press release. “Similarly, older adults who struggle to concentrate while meeting with co-workers at a coffee shop, for example, should schedule meetings in quieter locations. When people get lost while driving, it’s probably best to turn off the radio.”

I have used music to remember many things in my life (from exams to life events) and I believe it helps people memorize more than they can normally do, either that or my brain (which is almost always inert) just starts functioning when it hears familiar jingles. Memorizing is a very difficult thing for some people and I think music may just be the key for them, try it sometime you will be amazed.