What Listening to Music at Work Does to Your Brain
Scientists have uncovered how best to make music enrich your professional life
When the office is almost too much to stomach, music can deliver much-needed relief on the job. Before you press Play, however, have a handle on when your tunes will be most beneficial for you and your brain.
Learning = Stop
Learning requires your brain to analyze and remember instructions and facts. When music is on, however, your brain has to process auditory data on top of processing the instructions and facts. Because of this multitasking, the brain can interpret the instructions and facts improperly, either associating them in odd ways or making mistakes about what's important enough to store. Thus, if you have to learn something at work, it's best to turn off your music, especially if you're learning verbally or through reading and the music has lyrics.
Noisy = Play
If your workspace is noisy, the brain will try to handle all the individual pieces of data in the noise. All that data processing takes energy you otherwise could use to focus on your job. It also increases levels of the stress-hormone cortisol and decreases levels of dopamine. Those hormonal changes negatively affect the prefrontal cortex, hindering executive function. Thus, productivity can go down, even if doing your required task doesn't require you to learn. In this scenario, listening to music can actually help, because it blocks out the other excessive input that could overwhelm you and keeps you calm.
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