08. Neuroscience

Should you Listen to Music While Working?

October 7, 2016

The open-office concept was designed to build camaraderie between team members and ease communication. Open-office spaces, however, have also resulted in undesirable side effects: high noise levels, a lack of privacy and an abundance of both human and digital distractions. As a result, a lot of employees find refuge by listening to music with earbuds or headphones. To a certain extent, it gives them back a sense of control of their aural environment.

But, does listening to music while working hurt productivity? Does it distract you from the task at hand? Listening to music under certain conditions at work can actually help your performance thrive. In other situations, music makes it worse. Get a handle on your tunes to best enrich your professional life!


When you learn, your brain is required to analyze and recall instructions and facts. Unfortunately, music serves as a distraction from learning, since learning is a cognitively demanding task. Listening to music forces you to multitask, and as a result, your brain interprets information incorrectly. For instance, either it associates the facts in an odd way for causes you to make mistakes about what’s important enough to store. This is even more so the case if you’re trying to learn verbally or through reading and your music has lyrics. Consider turning the music off when absorbing and remembering new information!

Repetitive and Routine Tasks

Research has revealed that people who listen to music while performing repetitive tasks, work faster and make fewer errors. This also holds true to tasks that are complex, but that you have completed many times in the past. Playing music you like can lift your mood due to the release of feel-good neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters help trigger feelings of happiness and relaxation, which in turn help you focus better. In fact, surgeons routinely listen to music in the operating room and work more effectively when they do. Classical and instrumental music enhances mental performance more than music with lyrics.

New Music

You may experience feelings of surprise or novelty when you listen to music that’s new to you. Dopamine is released from your body as a response to this “newness” and you feel some degree of pleasure. Consequently, music quickly becomes more appealing than whatever task you’re trying to complete. You may even have a false sense that you are being more productive. So, it’s probably best not to listen to new music when you need to focus at work.

Now, you know a bit more about when it’s best to turn the music on and off. Happy listening (or not)!

If you'd like to learn more about the science and therapeutic benefits of music, then also checkout this Piano Report website.

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