Beware the Kinds of Music or Noise That Disrupt Your Concentration
Trying to do your taxes and can't decide if music will boost your concentration or drive you to distraction? Despite Spotify channels such as Deep Focus, Mellow Beats and Perfect Concentration, the fact is, the sounds that may distract or improve concentration are different for everyone.
"Music can help focus if it's music that you are familiar with or like or that doesn't do much other than block out background noise," says neuroscientist Seth Horowitz, author of The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind. "It can also intrude if it's something you don't like, are not familiar with or otherwise grabs your attention away from your task."
While there are very few absolutes for increasing attention, in general, music can block out external noises in the environment that may distract you from whatever task is at hand. "Beyond that, classical music tends to be very consonant - regular, harmonic, low cognitive stress - with regular tempos. Both of these factors may facilitate certain tasks, but are certainly not panaceas," Horowitz says. "It will vary tremendously based on your personal history and exposure to that type of music and whether or not you like it and can easily put it in the background."
As for other sounds, such as waves crashing, birds chirping or car engines running, and their ability to distract or soothe, a lot has to do with your personal demographics. "Any sound that jumps out of the background, either by pitch, timing or loudness, will interrupt your attention very, very quickly," Horowitz says. "You process these basic acoustic features faster than any other sensory input."
And that fast-startle reflex when it comes to noise is a survival trait. "If you think about it, concentration on a task for a long period of time is really not great for long-term survival in the environment in which our ancestors evolved. Pay too much attention to the shiny rock and you get eaten by the really quiet lion," Horowitz says. "And while there aren't too many nonhuman predators lurking around in most cities, hearing that quiet electric car's tire sounds will still save you from serious injury, which is why walking around under headphones is not such a great idea." – Renée Bacher