How listening to music 'significantly impairs' creativity

How listening to music 'significantly impairs' creativity
A student listening to music Credit: Lancaster University

The popular view that music enhances creativity has been challenged by researchers who say it has the opposite effect.

Psychologists from the University of Central Lancashire, University of Gävle in Sweden and Lancaster University investigated the impact of on by presenting people with verbal insight problems that are believed to tap .

They found that background "significantly impaired" people's ability to complete tasks testing verbal creativity—but there was no effect for background library noise.

For example, a participant was shown three words (e.g., dress, dial, flower), with the requirement being to find a single associated word (in this case "sun") that can be combined to make a common word or phrase (i.e., sundress, sundial and sunflower).

The researchers used three experiments involving verbal tasks in either a or while exposed to:

  • Background music with foreign (unfamiliar) lyrics
  • Instrumental music without lyrics
  • Music with familiar lyrics

Dr. Neil McLatchie of Lancaster University said: "We found strong evidence of impaired performance when playing background music in comparison to quiet background conditions."

The popular view that music enhances creativity has been challenged by researchers who say it has the opposite effect.Psychologists investigated the impact of background music on performance by presenting people with verbal insight problems that are believed to tap creativity. They found that background music 'significantly impaired' people's ability to complete tasks testing verbal creativity -- but there was no effect for background library noise. Credit: Lancaster University

Researchers suggest this may be because music disrupts verbal working memory.

The third experiment—exposure to music with familiar lyrics- impaired creativity regardless of whether the music also boosted mood, induced a positive mood, was liked by the participants, or whether participants typically studied in the presence of music.

However, there was no significant difference in performance of the verbal tasks between the quiet and library noise conditions.

Researchers say this is because library noise is a "steady state" environment which is not as disruptive.

"To conclude, the findings here challenge the popular view that music enhances creativity, and instead demonstrate that music, regardless of the presence of semantic content (no lyrics, familiar lyrics or unfamiliar lyrics), consistently disrupts creative performance in insight problem solving."


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More information: Emma Threadgold et al, Background music stints creativity: Evidence from compound remote associate tasks, Applied Cognitive Psychology (2019). DOI: 10.1002/acp.3532
Provided by Lancaster University
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User comments

Feb 27, 2019
That is not a test of creativity, but more a memory and vocabulary test. How is finding a word an act of creativity?

Feb 27, 2019
How? No animals are available for creativity testing !
This result after so many generations? So, rather watch shows, movies that keep the Eyes and Brain active. If so interested, Background Music only when something is being seriously done, when it does not interfere with the work being done and no continuous attention is paid to it !

Feb 28, 2019
A better-designed experiment would test if actively, intentionally listening to music has an effect on some cognitive measure. Likening problem-solving to creativity is also a stretch. This seems to be a shallow study about distraction, not about music per se. The conclusion I would have reached is that using tunes and lyrics to distract people while they are receiving input interferes with their problem solving ability.

Feb 28, 2019
What's surprising is that anyone ever thought that listening to music enhances creativity. Creativity tends to emerge from the mind when it is undistracted. Music is a distraction. Your brain wants to process music because it is structured and has a pattern to it that your brain can't help working on. The only time music ceases to be distracting is when your brain is so completely engaged in another activity that it has no time to process the music.

Mar 04, 2019
This test is about concentration, not creativity. Misleading headline or useless test. Either way...clickbait?

Mar 07, 2019
If this was never obvious to you, I hate to break it to you but you're not that creative. Musak is brain-deadening.

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