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Does music help you focus? Yes, but only if you like the music

30 August 2014, 10:33 am EDT By Laura Rosenfeld Tech Times
A new study has found that the type of music doesn't influence your ability to focus but how you feel about the music. What this means is Beyonce can be perfect study music.  ( Michal Czerwonka / Getty Images )

It's the age-old question: Do you like to have music on while you're working? Some people thrive off of listening to music while they study, read or work, and they always have it on when completing assignments. Others, like myself, find having music on in the background incredibly distracting.

This timeless debate has torn many roommates a part. But is there a right answer?

Apparently, yes. Listening to music can actually help you focus, but you have to like it.

A study published in "Scientific Reports" found that listening to music that you like could help you focus on your own thoughts. Researchers from the Wake Forest School of Medicine and the University of North Carolina Greensboro recruited 21 young adults and placed them in an MRI scanner as they played songs that varied in genre. The selections included "Movement I from Symphony No.5" by Beethoven (classical), "Water" by Brad Paisley (country), "OMG" by Usher (rap/hip-hop), "Rock 'N Roll All Nite" by KISS (rock) and "Spring Hall" by the Chinese Jinna Opera Band (unfamiliar genre).

No more than six of the participants shared the same musical genre preference going into the test. Researchers also asked for participants' favorite songs. The researchers played the tunes in full as they scanned their brains using an MRI as they tested to see how a person's feelings about a song influenced his or her brain activity.

What the results showed was actually pretty unexpected. When the research subjects listened to a preferred or a favorite song of theirs, they were better connected to a part of the brain called the default mode network, which is tied to how humans are able to switch between thinking about what's going on around them and their self-referential thoughts. I would have thought listening to songs you enjoy would actually make you pay more attention to the song than what you're doing, whereas music you don't find as interesting makes you tune out a bit, but maybe that's not the case.

The relationship between music and the brain is an area that has been heavily explored in research. Many studies have pointed to music's ability to help employees be more productive or help children learn more effectively. However, this is one of the only studies to show, albeit with a small sample size, that the type of music one listens to might not be as important as the listener's preference for it.

These results might not only be useful for those hoping to efficiently tackle assignments but also those who cope with often crippling neurological disorders. The authors write that problems in the connectivity to the default mode network may be related to conditions such as autism, schizophrenia and depression. With more research, these findings could really change lives.

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