Relaxing background music has been shown to decrease heart rate and respiration rate, which can have a positive effect on cognitive performance. New research published in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement found that listening to three genres of relaxation music (jazz, piano, and lo-fi) could improve cognitive performance.
Research shows that listening to different types of music can improve sustained attention, alertness and attentional focus. However, other studies show that background music can affect cognitive performance (ie, text comprehension, verbal memory).
For the current study, study author Ulrich Kirk and colleagues were interested in comparing whether different types of relaxing background music could affect cognitive processing and physiological activity. “The study recruited four groups of participants where each group was exposed to a specific genre of music compared to a control group with no music. In a between-group design, the study exposed three separate groups jazz music, piano musicand lo-fi music respectively. The fourth group was a control group without music.”
The researchers sampled 108 adult participants who did not have any heart conditions or stress for this study. Each participant was randomly assigned to one of four experimental groups. The study was conducted over three days where participants were measured for mind wandering (sustained attention), acute attention, and heart rate variability (HRV). Importantly, participants were measured for acute attention and listen to music and measure your continuous attention after Listening to music.
On the first day, participants completed baseline measures of sustained attention and HRV. On the second day, participants were taken to a room, given headphones, and listened to music corresponding to their experimental condition while also being monitored for HRV. They were also measured for acute attention during the last 5 minutes of music listening and sustained attention when the session was over.
On the third day, participants repeated the procedure from day 2 and listened to the same music again. The only difference is that some participants listened to a 15 minute clip on the second day and then a 45 minute clip on the 3rd day while other participants listened in the reverse order. Three weeks later, participants returned to complete another 15-minute music session and attention task. The participants were instructed to listen to their assigned piece of music at least 10 times over the three weeks to familiarize themselves with the music.
Results show that those who listened to music (regardless of duration) had a higher performance compared to the control group without music. In addition, those who listened to music (all three genres) showed an increase in performance over the course of the study for 15 and 45 minute music sessions.
Similarly, those who listened to music (regardless of duration) showed higher HRV compared to the control group without music. HRV increased over the course of the study for those who listened to music, but this increase was also noted in the no-music control group. These differences were observed for the 15- and 45-minute conditions.
Results from the follow-up test three weeks later show that those who listened to music had faster response times compared to the control group without music. Results also show that those in the music groups showed an improvement in reaction time at the follow-up session compared to those in the no-music control group who showed no differences. Finally, the control group without music had the lowest HRV compared to the other three music groups.
The researchers mention some limitations to this work, for example not including an active control group such as rock music. Future research that shows that music is that no can relax weakened performance can increase confidence in these results. Another limitation is measuring how participants felt about the music they were listening to. Perhaps a love of music in general can contribute to performance.
Ulrich Kirk, Christelle Ngnoumen, Alicia Clausel, and Clare Kennedy Purvis authored the study, “Effects of Three Focus Music Genres on Heart Rate Variability and Sustained Attention.”