Is listening to music making you worse at your job?

August 2, 2012

A note to the ranks of music-listening cubicle dwellers: New research suggests that your headphone-wearing habit is likely worsening your performance at work.

Some psychology research has shown people to do better at cognitive tasks after listening to music they liked. But psychologists Nick Perham and Martinne Sykora wanted to know what happened when we listened to music and worked on cognitive tasks at the same time. They found that performance was best in the quiet condition, but worse when participants listened to a song they liked via headphones (in this case, "From Paris to Berlin" by Infernal). They also didn't realize that their performance was the very worst when they listened to a pleasant tune.

Not ready to ditch your headphones quite yet? There is one fix: The researchers found that participants listening to music they decidedly did not enjoy - in this case, a song from "grind core metal band" Repulsion - actually did better than those tuning into music they liked. The researchers chalk that up to a lack of "acoustical variation" in the music, which likely made it less distracting. Might be time to start cranking some Korn in your cubicle sometimes soon.

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Dylan Matthews | August 2, 2012