Cardiff Met researchers reveal liked music does not always improve performance

16/01/2014

Researchers at Cardiff Metropolitan University have found that listening to lyrical music does not improve semantic processing which was tested in the form of reading comprehension

​Cardiff Met Lecturer and
Researcher Dr Nick Perham

Researchers fromCardiff School of Health Sciences led by Dr Nick Perham also found that listening to music they didn’t like was just as detrimental to participants’ performance as listening to their favourite music.

This latest research, titled ‘Does listening to preferred music improve reading comprehension performance?’ was based on the 15-year-old study showing that lyrical music is worse for reading comprehension performance than non-lyrical music.Dr Perham took these findings one step further to focus on whether participants listening to music they liked were more productive than those listening to music they disliked.

The researchers gave 30 students four, 70-line passages of text followed by six multiple choice questions on the text about the silent film industry, genetics and journalism while listening to lyrical music they liked (which participants provided), lyrical music they did not like (thrash metal by the band Death Angel, which the researchers provided), non-lyrical music or in a quiet, control condition.

Findings revealed that both lyrical pieces of music produced the poorest performance compared to the non-lyrical piece and quiet. The participants answered 60 per cent of questions right when they read in silence, about 50 per cent when they were listening to just music and 40 per cent to music with lyrics.

Dr Perham said: “Essentially we predicted the preference results, based on similar research we carried out four years ago which focused on the preference effect on short-term memory performance. This time the study focused on reading comprehension instead.

“To ensure that participants disliked the music, we didn’t include participants who liked thrash metal. Our results indicated that listening to music they liked or disliked (thrash metal) were both a lot worse than quiet. However, listening to non-lyrical music does not impair reading comprehension compared to quiet.”

The findings support the idea that when the task and the sound are processed semantically, there is a cost to reading comprehension performance which might suggest that non-lyrical music or quiet is better for homework or exam revision.