Does Listening to Music While Working Make You Less Productive?

Ideas

In a previous column about the stress of working in an “open” office, I suggested that the popular practice of listening to music with earbuds or headphones not only cuts down on background noise but may also give employees a sense of control over their aural environment. But does having a constant soundtrack to your day also distract you from the task at hand? That depends on the task. Research shows that under some conditions, music actually improves our performance, while in other situations music makes it worse — sometimes dangerously so.

(MORE:Workplace Woes: The “Open Office” Is a Hotbed of Stress)

Absorbing and remembering new information is best done with the music off, suggests a 2010 study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology. Adults aged 18 to 30 were asked to recall a series of sounds presented in a particular order. Participants’ performance suffered when music…

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