Background music and memory
Effects of Background Music on Word Recall Nicolas Sulicki Fordham University
The Mozart effect, the idea that listening to classical music can improve cognitive performance, was a popular idea that has been disproven by studies such as Rauscher, Shaw, and Ky (1993). Although the Mozart effect has been disprove, there are studies that have found that a background music stimulus produces a significant improves performance on different tests. Hallam, Prince, and Katsarou (2002) found that background auditory stimuli produced a significant increase in performance on mathematical tests.
This study had 13 participants who were assigned to either a background music condition or a background silence condition. This study found that background music did not produce a significant increase in performance compared to the background silence group. Although the results were not significant, the data suggests that music can slightly help participants’ memory.
Effects of Background Music on Word Recall
Music has been shown to have an effect on memory and learning, but certain factors do influence the outcome of the results. One area of interest is the Mozart effect, which is the idea that listening to classical music can increase overall cognitive performance. Studies, like Chabris (1999), have disproven the Mozart effect. Many other studies have shown that, although the Mozart effect has been disproven, background music can enhance a persons’ performance on certain cognitive tests. Some studies, like Olsen (1995, 1997) showed that an auditory stimulus can negatively affect memory performance, but studies, like Stainback, Stainback, and Hallahan (1973), have found that classical pieces of music can improve memory.
Olsen (1995) examined the effects of music on memory in the context of advertisements. Participants in Olsen’s study were presented with one of two advertisements, one which had rock music playing in the background while an announcer provided information about a product and one which had the announcer give information on a product while there was silence in the background.
The advertisements were not presented in the context of a program as to not create variability in attention. Participants were not aware that they would be asked to recall information from the advertisement and to answer additional questions about the advertisements. Olsen asked participants to rate ads on how enjoyable they were. To analyze his data, Olsen used hierarchical log linear analysis and used binary coding for the dependent and independent variable. The dependent variable was whether or not the information from the advertisement was recalled and the independent variables were the attribute, serial position, and silence treatment. The results of Olsen’s study support his hypothesis, which is that there is “greater recall of information when silence is present throughout the background than when music is presented throughout”.
His finding of “that silence in the background throughout an advertisement results in greater overall retention than music in the background throughout the advertisement, is only marginally supported” (41). Although other studies have found greater significance in recall with a silent background, Olsen speculates that one reason for less significant data could be a result of the 10 seconds gaps of silence between advertisements. This research shows that background noise, specifically music, does not have any benefits in memory.
What Olsen did not look at was the effects of music that is not seen as distracting.
In another study Olsen (1997) examined interstimulus intervals in advertisements, which is “the amount of time between two items of information, where an item may be one or more words used to describe a particular product feature” (295). He did three experiments that tested the effects of inter stimulus intervals under different conditions.
In Experiment 1, Olsen examined the effect of interstimulus interval length and the presence of background music in a goal-directed learning task. Undergraduate students in an introductory marketing class participated in the study and we asked to listen to an advertisement for a cell phone. Similar to Olsen’s (1995) previous study, participants were asked to rate the level of enjoyment of the advertisement with no knowledge of them being asked to recall information about the ads. The only difference was that participants listened to advertisements with the experimental always being the third. After listening to and rating all the ads, participants were asked to recall all the information they could on the experimental advertisement.
The results of Experiment 1 support the hypothesis that as interstimulus intervals increase recall would increase. When looking at whether there was background music or background silence, both groups showed no significant effects. Experiment 2 followed the same procedure but incorporated a larger sample size. The results of Experiment 2 suggest that there is no significant effect for background noise. In Experiment 3 the procedure changed so that background music and background silence were examined.
The same advertisements were used but a reduced design was employed to examine the background conditions and two inter stimulus intervals. The results of Experiment found that recall of information in the experimental ad dropped when there was an increase in the inter stimulus interval in the background silence condition. There was no significant difference in information recall for the background music condition when the interstimulus interval increased from 2 seconds to 3 seconds. This study found, overall, that there is little effect that background condition has on recall of information.
Olsen focused his research on advertisements but other studies have looked at the effects of background conditions in educational settings. Hallam, Price, and Katsarou (2002), looked at how background conditions, whether there was music or silence, affected grade school children’s performance on arithmetic tasks and on memory tasks.
The researchers examined the effect of music that stimulates arousal learning among students between the ages of 10 to 12 years old. Music was chosen by presenting pieces from Walt Disney movies and having students rate whether the music was calm/exciting, happy/sad, and like/dislike. Whichever song was found to be calming was used. The first study compared students’ performance on arithmetic tasks for when music was present and when it was silent.
The researchers found that the students who were presented background music performed better (M= 34.9) than the group without background music (M= 27.3). They found that listening to music resulted in a significant increase in the number of completed problems compared to those who completed the problems in silence. The mean of the number of completed questions that were correct was greater for those with background music than those with background silence but there was no significant difference. In Experiment 2 students were randomly assigned to one of three conditions, a control group, a group that listened to quiet, calming music, and a group that listened to exciting, aggressive music. In this study participants were given ten sentences to study in which they were asked to recall a target adjective word. The participants had ten seconds to read a sentence and after all the sentences were read the participants were given a booklet and instructed that for each sentence they had ten seconds to fill in the missing word. The researchers found that there were no significant differences between males and females and there were no significant interaction effects between gender and music condition.
There was a significant difference between the three conditions. Calming relaxing music increased the number of mathematical problems that were completed, increased the number of words remembered from sentences, and showed pro-social behavior in children aged 10-12 years than children who listened to exciting, aggressive music (2002). Participants listening to exciting, aggressive music were found to be more distracted and unable to complete the sentences in the sentence completion task. This study shows that calm music can produce beneficial results in memory and learning tasks.
Furnham and Strbac (2002) examined performance on three separate tasks and how distracting the noise was rated among extroverts and introverts. Participants took the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire which identified them as either an extrovert or an introvert. The researchers used city noise instead of music in this study. Participants would have to complete a reading comprehension task, a memory for prose task, and a mental arithmetic task. In reading comprehension participants were told to read seven passages and determine whether a statement is true, false, or cannot be determined from the passage.
In memory for prose participants were given a passage to read and then asked to recall as much information as they could from the passage. In the mental arithmetic task participants were asked to do math problems that were either just addition or both addition and subtraction. At the completion of all three tasks participants were asked to rate how motivated they were, how distracting the noise was, and if they usually work with music or noise.
The researchers found that performance in all three tasks declined for all participants in the presence of noise compared to silence. Extroverts’ performance was higher than introverts’ performance for when noise was present. There was a positive correlation between extroversion scores and how likely a person would study with music. There was also a negative correlation between an individual’s extroversion score and how distracting they would rate the noise in the experiment. This experiment shows that noise can have different effects for different people.
Furnham and Bradley (1997) did a study examining distracting effects of `pop music' on introverts' and extroverts' performance on various cognitive tasks. The researcher hypothesized that “that introverts and extroverts will perform equally well on tasks that are completed in silence; however in the presence of distracting music the introverts will not perform as well as the extroverts”
They administered the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire to identify who is an introvert and who is an extrovert. Participants were given a reading comprehension test that was found in a GMAT and a memory task from the British Ability Scales. For the memory task, participants were shown a sheet with pictures of 20 images and would be asked to free recall the items. After completing both tasks, participants were asked to rate how distracting they found the music and how often they work with the radio on.
The results show that there was no significant difference on performance between introverts and extroverts but there was a significant increase of recall for extroverts when the music was on compared to extrovert’s performance when the music was of and introverts when the music was off and on. In all other tasks there was no significant effect. Extroverts said they were less distracted more likely to work with the radio on than introverts. Extroverts also listened to the radio more than introverts did. This study shows that personality can determine whether a person finds a certain type of music to be more distracting than another.
This study was related back to students study habits, saying that depending on a student’s personality they will develop certain study habits and study in certain places.
Other studies looked at the nature of the music rather than the personality type of the participant. Stainback, Stainback, and Hallahan (1973) investigated “the effects of calming background music on task relevant and task irrelevant learning of educable mentally retarded students” (109). The participants were students between the ages of 10 to 14.5 years old and had and IQ range of 50 to 87. The participants were randomly put into one of four groups: music with distracter, with distracter only, music without a distracter, and no music and no distracter. The participants in the relevant task were presented with index cards that had six household object-animal pairs. The participants in the irrelevant task were presented with white cards each displaying a picture of one of the household objects and a white card with each of the six animal pictures displayed on the bottom half. The group with no distraction and no music were administered the task with no auditory stimulation. The distraction only group was administered the task with a tape of typical hall noises playing in the background. The music only group was administered the tasks with a tape recording of Bach's "Air for the G String" playing in the background. The music and distracter group was administered the tasks with a tape recording of Bach's "Air for the G String" and a tape recording of typical hall noises playing in the background. There was a significant difference between the non music group and the music group in the relevant task but no significant difference in the irrelevant task.
The researchers conclude that music can aid in students attending to relevant stimuli. Music enabled institutionalized educable retarded children to process more information since relevant learning was increased without reducing irrelevant learning.
Roth and Smith (2008) tested the arousal hypothesis using Mozart’s compositions as a response to prior studies that disputed the Mozart Effect. The belief was that if a person listens to a classical piece of music there would be a temporary increase spatial-temporal reasoning in the person. The increase in spatial-temporal reasoning was attributed to moderate arousal that improved cognitive performance (2008). For their experiment, Roth and Smith divided participants into five conditions, full musical expert, rhythm, melody, non musical auditory stimulus, or silence.
The musical stimuli conditions were derived from Mozart’s “Piano Sonata No. 3 in B Flat,” which they chose from a previous study (Lintz & Gadbois, 2003). Participants were exposed to their background condition for a total of 5 minutes and 43 seconds. After being exposed to their condition participants were given a practice GRE, with only 30 minutes to complete 25 questions.
Roth and Smith found that the participants with a background auditory stimulus performed better on the test than participants in the background silence condition. There was no statistically significant difference between the different auditory stimuli, but this study supports that a background auditory stimuli improves performance.
Most research has focused on participants’ performance on different tests but there is little research done on the direct link between background music and word recall. The hypothesis of this study is that participants in the background music condition will recall more words than participants in the background silence condition.
This study will examine participants’ ability to recall lists of words while being exposed to background music or background silence. Participants assigned to the background music condition will listen to a classical piece of music and study a list of 15 random words. Participants in the background silence condition will study a list of 60 random words that are selected from the Toronto word pool (Friendly, Franklin, Hoffman, & Rubin, 1982). Participants in both groups will be asked to recall as many words as they can in any order.
The independent variable in this study is background condition, either background music condition or background silence condition. The dependent variable in this study is number of words recalled. The researcher’s hypothesis is that participants in the background music group will recall more words because the music with stimulate arousal which will optimize learning.
Thirteen participants were all enrolled at Fordham University and registered in Memory Lab, participated in the present study (N= 13). Of the thirteen participants, 2 were male (15.4%) and 11 were female (84.6%). The average age of the participants was 21.8 years old. The ages of the participants ranged from 20 years old to 25 years old. Of the thirteen participants six were white (N= 6), three were Hispanic (N= 3), three were Asian (N=3), and one identified themselves as other (N=1). In this study six participants were given music to listen to while studying the list of words and seven participants studied the words in silence. Five participants said they do not listen to music when they normally study (38.5%). Eight of the participants said they to music while they study.
A recording of Mozart’s “Piano Sonata No. 3 in B Flat” was used as the auditory stimulus for the background music condition. Roth and Smith (2008) found “Piano Sonata No. 3 in B Flat” to cause arousal and stimulate the mind. A PowerPoint slide show was made to present the list of word. Each slide contained one word, which were centered, and presented for 5 seconds. Sixty words were selected from the list that Friendly, Franklin, Hoffman and Rubin (1982) used in their study on recency effects in free recall.
Participants were randomly divided into either the background music condition or background silence condition. Participants in the background music condition were told that a recording of a classical music piece will be played and they were to study the list of 60 words that was presented to them in the PowerPoint. Participants in the background silence condition were presented the same PowerPoint and told to memorize the words. Both groups were given 5 minutes to learn the list. After the five minutes passed those in the background music condition were instructed to stop the music and all participants were instructed to hand in their list of words. An answer sheet was passed out and participants were asked to recall as many of the 60 words as they could in any order.
When the answer sheets were collected the data was analyzed. Each participant was given a score of number of correct out of 60. A t-test for independent means was conducted to see if there was a significant difference in recall between the background music condition and the background silence condition.
The hypothesis for this study was that participants in the background music condition will recall more words than participants in the background silence condition. It was also hypothesized that there would be a positive correlation between participants’ study habits and the number of words they recall. A t-test for independent means was conducted to see if there was a significant difference between the number of words recalled for participants in the background music group and participants in the background silence group. The background music condition did not perform better (M= .28, SD= .08) than the background silence condition group (M=.25, SD= 14.9). There was no significant difference between the number of words recalled in participants who had background noise and participants who had background silence (t(11)= -.44, p> .05)..
There was no significant correlation between participants’ study habits and the percent of words recalled (r= .25, p= .2). Participants who study while listening to music did not recall significantly more words than participants who did not study while listening to music.
The results of this study found that there was no significant difference in the number of words recalled between the background music condition and the background silence condition. The hypothesis of this study was that participants in the background music condition will recall more words than participants in the background silence. The results of this experiment do not support either hypothesis. Participants who listened to Mozart’s “Piano Sonata No. 3 in B Flat” did recall more words than participants who had silence in the background, but it was not a significant difference.
One data point in this study that stands out is that the highest recall was from a participant in the background silence condition. The participant was able to recall 30 out of 60 words where as the greatest recall for participants with background music was 23. The average number of words that participants recalled was 16 (SD= 6.75). The participant who recalled 30 words did 1 SD better than participants who recalled the most words in the background music condition and more 2 SD than all the participants. The participant’s data was included in the analysis because of a small sample size but could be a reason as to why there was not a significant increase in score between participants in the background music noise and participants in the background silence condition.
Unlike Hallam, Prince, and Katsarou (2002), this study did not find increased performance in memory tasks. A reason why there was a difference in results is the difference in methods used to select the background music. Hallam, Prince, and Katsarou presented various Disney musical pieces and asked participants to rate the music. For this experiment a classical piece was chosen based on previous research. Future research can incorporate a third condition with background music that is preferred by participants. According to the demographic questionnaire only one participant listened to classical music, where the majority of participants said that they listened to rock and pop music. Future research can take into account what genre of music is popular and present a background music condition of that genre.
Another limitation of this study is the small sample size. Roth and Smith (2008) had 72 participants in their study and found a significant increase in performance on the test in participants who were presented a background auditory stimulus. Hallam, Prince, and Katsarou (2002) had 31 participants in Experiment 1 and 30 participants in Experiment 2. In both experiments, Hallam, Prince, and Katsarou found a significant increase in performance of participants who had a background auditory stimulus. Increasing the number of participants and making both groups equal might help find statistically significant data.
A small sample size is not the only limitation when collecting data. In this study there was only one trial. Future research should run multiple trials for each condition. Multiple trials can eliminate effects caused by outliers. Also multiple trials can allow for comparison of effects over the trials to see if extended exposure to music will continue to increase performance on memory tasks.
Another limitation is that participants could have cheated since they were paired up during the entirety of the experiment. The list that participants had to recall were the same for everyone, the only difference was the background condition. Participants could have looked at the answer sheet of the person next to them to get words they might not have remembered. This should not significantly affect the results unless it is assumed that all participants cheated.
A final limitation of this study was that assigning the conditions was not completely random. Participants were asked before being assigned if they had headphones with them. Participants who said they had headphones were assigned to the background music condition. All but one participant in the background music condition responded yes when asked if they study while listening to music. This could have decreased the beneficial effects that music normally would have had. In fact 2 out of 3 of the highest scores came from participants who said they do not listen to music while studying.
Even though this study did not find a significant increase in words recalled among participants in the background music condition compared to participants in background silence condition there are implications for learning. A person who gets grades that are on the borderline of passing and failing might benefit from studying with music in the background prior to the exam. They can see their score go up slightly. Even if the person’s grade is not on the borderline they can benefit from a slight boost from listening to music before an exam. If music is played in the background in a classroom, student might understand subjects like math and science as well as memorize certain material better.
Another implication of this study is that the connection between background music and performance on tests is not a simple connection. Furnham and Strbac (2002) and Furnham and Bradley (1997) took into account personality types when studying background auditory stimuli and found that performance was improved. What the current study shows is that looking at the connection between music and performance is not adequate and that looking at the participants’ personalities, preferences, and experience with music can affect the way background music affects their performance. When debriefing participants about the experiment one participant admitted that they played piano in the past and during the experiment focused more on the notes being played than the words. Other students admitted that they found classical music, which was unfamiliar to them, distracting whereas music they were accustomed to listening to might have helped them during the learning phase. This study shows that personality and preference should be considered when setting up an experiment that studies the relationship between music and performance on memory tasks.