Does the music improve our concentration? Science seeks the answer

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José Ramón Alonso Peña Updated: Save Send news by mail electrónicoTu name *

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“With classic, with the latest Rosalie or key chill out , but I get better everything”. We can agree with this statement or, on the contrary, belong to the group of those who need absolute silence during the reading and studio . Many of them are upset with the singer’s voice, but improve your concentration with instrumental pieces. Other people enjoy a text if it is accompanied with a background of opera. We have, therefore, a great variety of preferences and outcomes. Maybe science has something to say: do improves our cognitive capabilities, the music ?

If the scientific evidence to give an affirmative answer to this question, many parents would be defeated in the battle daily with their teenage children. The scene is repeated every evening in thousands of homes: the child does the task class with the music blaring. The reason for the anger, in addition to the discomfort of others and own, it is the firm belief that in these acoustic conditions it is impossible to know what that reads.

Well, it seems that science does not confirm the prejudices of the parents.

Intuitively, I doubt father has sense: it is contradictory that we can concentrate one hundred percent on a task if it is shared with another at the same time. That is to say, if we pay attention to one of them –in this case listening to music– the other –to read, to assimilate, to resolve– will be left unattended. However, in this case, the valiant teenager can justify his conduct, although you will have to argue very well his answer.

For example, it is shown that are not useful in the repetitive rhythms, as they are very boring and the brain does not find the spark novel that makes you be alert. Not work well the rhythms are very complex and chaotic, such as free jazz, because there is a definite pattern and the brain is not calm. According to some experts, the key is to find the middle point. This appears in similar rhythms to the funk as James Brown .

A study carried out by the group of professor Morten Kringelbach reveals that our neural networks have a greater preference for this musical style because it is neither too predictable nor too chaotic.

we Know that listening to music produces a series of emotions that cause physiological reactions, and change our mood. These pleasurable feelings predispose us to action, but also to cognition. Our favorite music not only gives us happiness, but it enhances concentration, our performance at work and, sometimes, the intellectual. This was demonstrated by the researcher at Teresa Lesiuk , after studying the effect of music on the workers of a small company. These had completed their tasks faster and generated ideas more original that those who worked in silence. If we are happy, we are more creative.

The music has another advantage. At the time we put on the headphones, we protect the rest of distractions . The mechanism is simple: our brain has two attention systems: one conscious, which we control, and one unconscious, called the neural network by default, acting on his own. This system unconscious is not closed while we perform a task, so even the noise lighter can break our concentration: the tic-tac of a clock, the humming of the fridge. Music calms the activity of this network by default, and minimizes the activity between brain areas responsible for a state of permanent alert that has helped us survive as a species.

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In their study, Lesiuk emphasized the importance of the personal choice of the type of music to improve concentration. If the option is silence, a self-assessment without the deceptions of the success or failure of the music as a tool of support to help you decide whether to continue using it or not. There is not a clear strategy; what s studies on the effects of the background music during learning are not conclusive.

The variables to be taken into account in these investigations are many and experiments with many factors are complicated. The circumstances and the tastes in music are essential to get results, but they are very different in each person. Even for the same task, background music can facilitate, impair or have no effect on the learning of new content.

The variables that play an important role in these experiments include individual differences (character, musical training, music preferences, study habits). It also influences the type of task, cognitive (problem solving, reading comprehension, memorization) and the context (in the classroom or in the room, alone or in company).

The choice of music is another factor to take into account. It is advisable to know the pleasant sensation that causes the music to the student by itself, when you listen to no other task simultaneously. The tempo of the music is important, just like the intensity or the pace. To assess the influence of the voice that sings, the absence of the latter, whether they are melodies of known or new to the listener. As we see, the conditions of the test and the interactions between them are many and complicate the search for a model with a general conclusion and direct.

all in all, the results only confirm the inconsistency of the studies. A final illustrative example comes from a study that measured reading comprehension and memory for lists of words under different conditions: while listening to a song a capella, with singing and instrumental music at the same time, only instrumental music, with a voice that does not sing but speaks and, finally, in absolute silence. Although one might expect the conditions with singing or speech were the most unfavourable, was not so; the test of reading comprehension had the same results that when the participants read in the other environmental conditions.

We have then to our teenager preparing for their exams with the music “out of whole cloth” and we see that there is no scientific evidence to support the request for silence on the part of the parents, at least on the grounds that it will benefit him. In any case, some headphones and some good results in their test scores will be used to relieve headaches parental.

José Ramón Alonso Peña is a Professor of cell Biology. Neurobiologist, University of Salamanca

This article has been written in collaboration with the secondary school teacher and expert on education and neurosciences Marta Good.

A version of this article was originally published in the blog of the author, Neuroscience. This is the version of The Conversation .