Should we listen to music at work?

It depends.

If you are in customer service and a customer is unable to get your attention because you are lost in the music belting out from your earphones, then no.

But if you are in a work environment where other extraneous noise, such as the guy in the next cubicle speaking loudly on his mobile, or tapping on his keyboard, or clicking his pen repeatedly, soothing your brain by listening to some music of your choice to maintain your sanity, means here the answer is yes.

The benefit of music and early brain development has long been recognised. Kids who learn a musical instrument for more than three years benefit from enhanced verbal fluency, non-verbal reasoning, greater learning ability (especially in reading and maths), memory, social confidence, self-expression and creativity.

The difference is in distinguishing being exposed to noise (an unwanted sound) that stresses the brain and sound that can stimulate the brain to work that little bit harder to process the information it is dealing with.

Our brain’s plasticity means that we are life-long learners: always able to learn new skills and embed new habits. We know too that by making the brain work harder in creating those new synaptic connections, that those synapses will be stronger and more resilient to resist being lost or forgotten.

In those work environments where a high level of creativity is required, being exposed to the right amount of sound as music can enhance innovation and creative thinking, because that little bit of extra cognitive struggle allows us to process things using a more creative approach.

Of course personal preference, personality and the type of work being done all play a role here too.

For years, I’ve been advising our kids to unplug their headphones and to study in silence, despite their protests they worked better listening to music. Turns out that for them, music was helpful to block out other distractions. They weren’t using the music to actively listen to, it was just in the background and because it was music they liked it kept them in a good mood raising dopamine levels, the brain’s feel good hormone helping to boost alertness and learning.

But I still find complete quiet essential to help me think.

I guess the answer is all brains are different and the way we use our brains differs too.
It looks like Mums don’t get it right all the time.

What have you found helpful to your work practice. Are you inspired by music or does it drive you to distraction?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Ravi Mehta, Rui (Juliet) Zhu, and Amar Cheema (2012) Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition Journal of Consumer Research  Vol. 39, No. 4, December 2012
Forgeard M, Winner E, Norton A, Schlaug G (2008) Practicing a Musical Instrument in Childhood is Associated with Enhanced Verbal Ability and Nonverbal Reasoning. PLoS ONE 3(10): e3566. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003566

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