Does listening to music increase workplace productivity? Posted by Wellbeing People on 26 April, 2018

A long-standing debate in any work environment is whether playing background music can be beneficial or detrimental to an individual’s output at work.  Many believe that listening to the radio or music quietly in the background can boost their productivity, while others swear that the sound becomes distracting and unwanted.

Research by two men; Simone Ritter at Radboud University in the Netherlands, and Sam Ferguson at the University of Technology in Sydney;  has shed some light as to whether listening to various types of music in the workplace affected the thinking of volunteers compared to working in silence.

The background science

The science behind it is that your brain has two working sections, your conscious mind and subconscious mind.  The latter of which works much faster than your conscious mind. For example, if you were walking down an abandoned road at night and hear a distant noise, your subconscious mind would hear the noise and alert your body which begins the process of generating adrenaline and preparing you for defence.  This is before your conscious mind even has the chance to think “I wonder what that noise is?”

This means that your conscious mind is the problem-solving section of your brain.  It is known as convergent thinking.  While your subconscious mind is responsible for more creative and impulsive thoughts, known as divergent thinking.

The study

Studies at the Universities in both Australia and the Netherlands have shown that music stimulates the way your subconscious mind works; meaning if you listen to happy music this can make you happier, or if you put on a sad song you are likely to feel melancholy. The same studies have also shown that listening to happy or exciting music can increase creativity and that creativity is even further boosted if you listen to a genre of music you like.

This, however, creates the first stumbling block of music in the workplace, how do you find one genre of music that everyone enjoys?  

The chances are that if there are twenty people within one office, they are going to have varying tastes in music!

The same study also shows that music has very little effect on your conscious thinking, meaning that the ability to solve problems isn’t really affected by the music you may be listening too, and this is why when solving problems certain people would find listening to music annoying and distracting.

The conclusion

From the 155 volunteers that participated in these studies, the conclusion is that if you want to get your creative juices flowing, put on your headphones and listen to a personal music player full of your favourite tunes! Stimulating your brain in a positive way is never a bad thing after all. But if you’re trying to solve a set of complicated problems, opting for sweet silence may be the better option!

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Sources: Simone Ritter, Radboud University, Netherlands / Sam Ferguson, Sydney University of Technology, Australia.