Listening to music impairs verbal creativity: UK/Sweden university study

Take those headphones off, and think more clearly. The conventional view that music enhances creativity is being refuted by a University of Central Lancashire, University of Gävle in Sweden and Lancaster University study that has found the opposite.

When matched against respondents in library or relatively quiet natural ambient noise conditions, music listening “significantly impaired” the completion of simple but creative/problem-solving verbal tasks classified as Compound Remote Associate Tasks (CRATs), such as associating three words (e.g., dress, dial, flower), with another word (in this case “sun”) that can be combined to make a common word or phrase (i.e., sundress, sundial and sunflower). It apparently didn’t matter whether the music was instrumental or with foreign-language familiar lyrics.

It’s not a surprise as this Editor cannot work with music on for any length of time since her attention goes to the music versus what she’s working on. This is despite a misspent girlhood where she studied for exams listening to WABC’s Cousin Brucie and Scott Muni hosting New York’s Top 40 pop music. (Maybe teen brains are different?)

It’s mentioned here because music is frequently used in tech applications–in the design of music therapy in cognitive treatment and with memory-impaired seniors–and devices like Alexa at home and music in work environments are becoming pervasive. Thinking clearly and music listening may not be compatible for most people. But active listening to music alone can be quite pleasant, rather than as a background to multitasking. How listening to music ‘significantly impairs’ creativity (AAAS EurekAlert!), Lancaster University release/videos here, research study (Wiley) 

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