Are you one of those people who tune into music before or during doing a creative project? A recent study’s findings said that its effect could be counterproductive. A team of psychologists from the University of Central Lancashire, the University of Gävle in Sweden and Lancaster University investigated the impact of background music on performance by presenting people with verbal insight problems that are believed to tap creativity.
The study’s findings said that the background music "significantly impaired" people's ability to complete tasks testing verbal creativity -- but there was no effect for background library noise.
Take the example of a participant who was shown three words (e.g., dress, dial, flower), with the requirement being to find a single associated word (in this case "sun") that can be combined to make a common word or phrase (i.e., sundress, sundial, and sunflower).
For the purpose of the study, the participant was exposed to three different sound environments: Background music with foreign (unfamiliar) lyrics, Instrumental music without lyrics, Music with familiar lyrics
Dr. Neil McLatchie of Lancaster University said: "We found strong evidence of impaired performance when playing background music in comparison to quiet background conditions." The research thinks that this may be because music disrupts verbal working memory.
The findings show that the third experiment - exposure to music with familiar lyrics- impaired creativity regardless of whether the music also boosted mood, induced a positive mood, was liked by the participants, or whether participants typically studied in the presence of music.
However, there was no significant difference in the performance of the verbal tasks between the quiet and library noise conditions.
Researchers say this is because library noise is a "steady state" environment which is not as disruptive.
"To conclude, the findings here challenge the popular view that music enhances creativity, and instead demonstrate that music, regardless of the presence of semantic content (no lyrics, familiar lyrics or unfamiliar lyrics), consistently disrupts creative performance in insight problem-solving."