Background Music Impairs Creativity

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Researchers from Lancaster University challenged that popular view that music enhances creativity, while investigating impact of background music on performance

Creativity is an important part of cognition that defines several activities such as scientific discoveries, novel product design, and effective advertising and marketing communications. Background music is considered to influence cognitive performance and enhance creativity. However, limited experimental evidence is available that backs the boons of background music on creativity. In 2017, Simone M. Ritter of Behavioral Science Institute, Radboud University and Sam Ferguson of Creativity and Cognition Studios, Faculty of Engineering and IT, University of Technology Sydney published a paper: Happy creativity: Listening to happy music facilitates divergent thinking in PLOS One. The research demonstrated a facilitatory effect on creativity of background music.

Now, a team of researchers from the University of Central Lancashire, University of Gävle, and Lancaster University studies the effect of background music on performance of Compound Remote Associate Tasks (CRATs). The team conducted three experiments. In the first experiment, the team found that background music with unfamiliar lyrics substantially reduced CRAT performance. The participants solved significantly fewer CRATs in the music with foreign lyrics condition as compared to the quiet condition. In the second experiment, the team used background instrumental music and found similar results as compared with a quiet condition. In the final experiment, the participants were free to choose the music they want to hear. The team found that CRAT performance was impaired although the music encouraged a positive mood. Similar results were observed with participants that generally studied in the presence of music.

The team found no substantial difference in performance between the quiet and library noise conditions. According to the researchers, this can be attributed to the fact that library noise is a steady state environment, which is not as disruptive. The team concluded that the research challenges the popular view that defines music as a tool to enhance creativity. The findings demonstrate that music constantly interrupts creative performance in insight problem solving as measured by CRATs and the results do not depend on the presence of semantic content such as no lyrics, familiar lyrics, or foreign lyrics. The research was published in the journal Applied Psychology on February 02, 2019.

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About Author

Curt Reaves started working for Plains Gazette in 2016. Curt grew up in a small town in northern Iowa. He studied chemistry in college, graduated, and married his wife one month later. He has been a proud Texan for the past 5 years. Curt covers politics and the economy. Previously he wrote for the Washington City Paper, The Hill newspaper, Slate Magazine, and ABCNews.com.