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February News - How Music Affects Your Brain at Work

How Music Affects Your Brain at Work

Studies about how music affects our brains and emotions have been ongoing since the 1950s, when physicians began to notice the benefits of music therapy in European and U.S. hospital patients. However, humans have been using music to communicate thoughts and feelings to one another for centuries.

Today, research suggests that music can help relieve negative emotions like stress, anxiety and depression. It can even decrease instances of confusion and delirium in elderly medical patients recovering from surgery. Furthermore, research says that listening to happy or sad music can make us perceive others as being happy or sad, respectively. All of these findings make it clear that, for better or worse, music’s impact on our emotions is very real.

In terms of how music affects the brain, we can turn to a specific niche of research called neuromusicology, which explores how our nervous systems react to music. Basically, music enters the inner ear and engages many different areas of our brains, some of which are used for other cognitive functions, as well.   Somewhat surprisingly, the number of brain areas activated by music varies from person to person, depending on your musical training and your personal experiences with music. Therefore, how music impacts your ability to concentrate or feel a certain emotion can be expected to vary from person to person, too.

There are some general brain and mood patterns that modern music research reveals, and these can help us decide what kinds of music to listen to at work.  For the most part, research suggests that listening to music can improve your efficiency, creativity and happiness in terms of work-related tasks.  However, there are stipulations to these benefits. For example, studies seem to agree that listening to music with lyrics is distracting for most people. Therefore, it’s often recommended that we avoid listening to music featuring lyrics when working on tasks that require intense focus or the learning of new information.

In contrast, listening to music with lyrics may actually help people working on repetitive or mundane tasks, perhaps because the distracting nature of lyrical music can provide a kind of relief from the monotony of boring work  Science shows some ambient and natural music can boost your productivity  To some extent, one can make the case that music is a form of ambient noise.

Research suggests that ambient noise, or ambient music as we may prefer to think about it here, could be the best kind of music for work productivity.  A 2006 study from the journal of Ergonomics found continuous noise to be the least annoying background noise, while distinguishable speech was “the most disturbing, most disadvantageous and least pleasant environment” for participants. The study also included a “masked speech” variable, which proved to be the most effective means of arousing participants’ mental states, while (somewhat surprisingly) continuous noise was the least effective.

Additionally, research in 2015 from the The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America found that using ambient natural sounds like a flowing stream was an effective way to improve employees’ productivity and moods in the workplace.

Considering those studies above, it’s very probable that ambient music has the potential to help improve your mood and productivity. However, for music to really improve your productivity at work, you’ll likely need to alternate between periods of no music and periods of different kinds of music.

We can recall that, when learning new information, music without lyrics is preferable to lyrical music. However, if we complete this task at work and need to switch to a more repetitive, well-known task, we may benefit emotionally and productively from listening to music with lyrics. And, depending on the complexity of the task, we’ll likely encounter instances throughout the day when we need to ditch our headphones altogether and simply focus on what’s in front of us.

That said, finding the right kind of music can be challenging at times. This is part of the learning curve mentioned in the Psychology of Music research above. Clicking around to find the right artist can certainly detract from workplace productivity but, once you know what works for you, music can become a tool for near-instant concentration.

Need some music recommendations to get started feeling creative at work? Take a look at what music makes the guys we have interviewed over the years make them feel most creative.

What music makes you feel most creative at work?

A tough question and really varies depending on my mood. Sometimes it’s a new up and coming Grime/Hip-hop artist, sometimes it’s Fleetwood Mac! Pretty much everything in between.  Jon-Noonan Group Sales Director-Eventist Group

The music I listen to very much reflects my mood so I listen to all sorts of things from Heavy rock to classical, from 70s/80s funk to noughties house. However, If I need to focus, then nothing beats some blissed out chill-out house. It blocks out all distractions and lets me focus. It also slows the heart-rate when I have a tight deadline. James Somerton Head of Ecommerce Into The Blue

Hip Hop, film scores and big inspiring orchestral themes. Rob Edmonds MD NRG Digital

In our office we adore Coldplay and are huge Chris Martin fans!! It’s the sort of music that spans across all the various age groups of my team and everyone seems to concentrate a little more with this as background music -Alex Pickford Co-Founder Piece of Cake Casting

We listen to pop music. Anything upbeat and I also love 80’s music like Toto and I feel that it is always Phil Collins O’clock. Jessica Salter – Senior Consultant Bluetree

Article source – Chad Grills

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by Claire Newman
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