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Your Homework Is To Listen To Some Real Music Film Love

Image from (I apologize in advance- there were no good comics for this topic.)

If you’re a student, I am almost willing to bet that you have music playing right now. Maybe it’s Drake, maybe it’s Mumford and Sons, or maybe it’s The Beatles. Whatever your preference, I’m sure you love listening to your favorite artists every chance you get— maybe even while you study. Is playing your favorite song an easy way to make that homework bearable, or are you hurting your performance?

Previous research has found numerous benefits to listening to music before performing a task– it improves attention, memory, and even mental math ability. It has also been found to alleviate depression and anxiety.

However, the more realistic scenario is that students will study or do homework while playing “background music.” A recent study at the University of Wales looked at how background music affects students’ ability to complete a serial recall (remembering items in a specific order) test.

Students were given a serial recall test in five different scenarios–

1. A quiet environment

2. With “steady state” speech. This means a single word (in this case, “three”) was repeated for the duration of the test

3. With “changing state” speech. This means a variety of words (in this case, random digits from 1-9) were played during the test

4. With “liked” music, meaning a song of the students choice (such as Lady Gaga, Rihanna, or Arcade Fire). Students brought in their own music, the only requirement was that it had to have vocals

5. With “disliked” music, which in this case was a metal song called “Thrashers” by Death Angel (all students in the study disliked metal)

The researchers expected that the changing state speech would have the most detrimental effect on the students’ performance. Think about it like this– changing state is like having to do your homework while someone else is talking. Steady state is more like repetitive background noise (a noisy heater, for example), which is easier to tune out.

Surprisingly, the results actually found no significant difference between test scores with liked music, disliked music, and changing state speech. In other words, whether students enjoyed the music or not, having it on while they worked was just as distracting as hearing someone talk. Scores were significantly higher for tests taken in a quiet environment or with steady-state speech. In a subjective assessment of each scenario, students did say that the test with their liked music was “more pleasant,” but they did not find it any less distracting. The researchers hypothesize that they would see similar results if they were to repeat this procedure using a reading comprehension test.

But before you sadly put your iPod away, feeling that you’ve lost your only way of making homework bearable, consider this:  Another similar study that tested liked music’s effect on attention found similar results, but the researchers also noticed something intriguing. The students who took a test with music did have a lower average score than those who didn’t have music,  but the researchers noted that there was a lot of variation in the scores. This could imply that the effect of music can vary a lot from person to person, and they believe that more research needs to be done on how factors such as tempo, genre, or whether students are used to having music on, make any difference.

Furthermore, we should also note that these studies only looked at music with vocals, and not music that was purely instrumental. Research from the University of Dayton found that students performed better at spatial and linguistic processing if Mozart was playing in the background. So maybe having instrumental music can help performance, since it doesn’t have any distracting vocals. Again, think about it like you’re trying to work while someone’s talking to you (or just consider that maybe you’ll feel like singing along instead of doing your work!)


So should you listen to music while you study or do homework? Unfortunately, the answer I have to give you is “it depends!” It seems like in general, music with vocals is distracting, while instrumental music might actually help your performance.

We will have to wait for more research, but for now I’d say if you want some music to lighten up that homework, go for some instrumental  jazz, classical, or if you’re a movie-addict like me, try a movie score (the soundtrack of The Social Network got me through GRE prep).


Tagged as: attention, cognitive performance, college, music, music while studying, performance, Students

Five Great Movies About Education (And You Should Watch Them)

Dead Poets Society
Although I want to avoid my blog turning into one that's just filled with lists, I thought that this post would be a great sequel to my previous post, "Five Books You Should Read Before Coming To University." I don't consider myself to be as knowledgable about movies (I've never seen "Titanic" for instance. *GASP* I know. I mean, I know what happens, all the memorable quotes, and Celine Dion singing and batting her chest etc. but I've never seen it in full) as lets say music, but when I fall in love with a movie, I usually get pretty excited about it.

Similar to my book post, I thought it would be appropriate to make a list of movies that get me excited about learning, academics, and are just generally inspirational, perfect for someone about to go to university. So when you need a break from studying hard or you are just procrastinating, check out any of these five movies and try to restrain yourself from getting so excited about university and your future in education and therefore start packing for school...even though it's January.

1) Dead Poets Society (1989)
Notable Stars: Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard (Dr. Wilson from House), Ethan Hawke.

After being told I had to watch this movie before I went to university by my friend's Mom, Dead Poets Society will forever be one of my favourite films. Based around an all-boys, upper class, conservative school in 1959, Robin Williams shakes everything up thanks to his unorthodox teaching methods when hired as a new English teacher. By making a huge impact with his students, Robert Sean Leonard and Ethan Hawke being among them, Williams inspires, awes and teaches them all about carpe diem.

Memorable Quotes: "Carpe diem. Seize the day, boy. Make your lives extraordinary," "No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world."

2) Mona Lisa Smile (2003)
Notable Stars: Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal.

What I sometimes refer to as the girl version of Dead Poets Society, Mona Lisa Smile is similarly based around a conservative, upper-class, all-girls college in 1953. Like Robin Williams' character, Julia Roberts is the new art history professor and begins to test the conservative ways of thinking and learning by her students. (Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal...the list goes on) Although there's a little romance thrown in throughout, the movie questions women's gender roles in the 50s, a time in America where gender roles were a hot-button issue, the importance of education, and to always think outside the box.

Memorable Quote: "See past the paint. Let's open our minds to a different idea."

3) Good Will Hunting (1997)
Notable Stars: Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Ben Affleck

Maybe this list should have been, "The Best Roles Robin Williams Has Ever Played"... Incredibly charming and heartbreaking at the same time, Good Will Hunting tells the story of Will Hunting, Matt Damon's character, who's a genius, but has chosen to work as a janitor, and how he's dealing with the struggles endured throughout his childhood. With the help of his therapist Sean Maguire, Robin Williams, Hunting learns that he's not alone when it comes to battling past demons. (It was also partially filmed in Toronto!)

Memorable Quotes: "Will - I read your book last night. Sean - So you're the one." "Son of a bitch...He stole my line."

4) An Education (2009)
Notable Stars: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard

An Education doesn't focus on the typical classroom style of learning like some of the other movies on the list but issues surrounding academia are not overlooked. A British coming of age story, Mulligan's character is on her way to being accepted to Oxford University when she meets an older man, Peter Sarsgaard, who starts to romantically pursue her. Showing her there's more to life than education, Mulligan's character starts to abandon her educational desires until the truth about him is discovered.

Memorable Quote: "If you never do anything, you never become anyone"

5) School of Rock (2003)
Notable Stars: Jack Black, Joan Cusack

This is another movie that doesn't base solely around "classroom" academics but when I think of school, I think of the School or Rock. Struggling musician played by Jack Black impersonates his friend and roommate to land a job as a substitute teacher for a fifth-grade class at a prestigious prep-school. After hearing his class in their music class, Black's character decides to enter them into a local battle of the bands competition. Instilling the best kind of education in these kids, the education of rock, Black teaches them to be themselves, be confident in who they are, and the most important lesson of all, always stick it to the man.

Memorable Quotes: "You're tacky and I hate you," "We will continue our lecture on The Man when we return. Have a good music class," "Your homework is to listen to some real music. Get inspired."