Does Music Help You Study? What the Research Says

Modified on by Brainscape Team

Music while studying: A help or a hindrance?

Guest Post by awesome Brainscape intern Samuel Seidenberg:

You may have first heard it from your middle school music teacher: “Listen to Mozart while you study, it’ll increase your IQ!” This oft repeated “fact” has origins in a 1993 study published in Nature, which showed that a person’s spatial reasoning skills temporarily improved while listening to Mozart.1  The study was soon misquoted in a New York Times article, and the rumor began to spread that classical music “makes you smarter” and can serve as a study aid.

But is it true?

The Research Says… it Depends

Follow up studies showed no such benefit.2 According to a 2010 study from the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff, listening to music while studying may actually hinder memorization.3 In short, the study found that subjects who listened to any music while memorizing a list were able to recall less than subjects who studied in silence or were exposed to a single word repeated monotonously.  The reason being, the study’s authors speculate, that “music may impair cognitive abilities in these scenarios because if you’re trying to memorize things in order, you may get thrown off by the changing words and notes in your chosen song.”4

So if you’re one of the many wise people using Brainscape to learn faster, skip the tunes and stick to silence or binaural beats for your study sessions.

However, while music may not be conducive to study sessions, the cognitive benefits of listening to and learning to play music are still manifold. A study from the University of Windsor, for example, showed that the quantity and quality of software developers’ work were greater when they had background music than when they didn’t. 5 In addition, scientists at Northwestern University have found that “musicians are better than non-musicians in learning to incorporate sound patterns for a new language into words. Their brains also appear to be primed to comprehend speech in a noisy background.”6

In reality, there is still much to learn when it comes to the study of music and cognitive neuroscience.  If you want to learn more about this scientific mashup, check out these awesome Music and the Brain podcasts from the Library of Congress.

Conclusion: For study time, skip the tunes. If you’re a software developer, leave the background music on to keep your productivity at its peak.  To complement your new language acquisition, learn to play an instrument as well. And as always, we have to recommend you supplement your studying with Brainscape.


1. Rauscher, Frances H.; Shaw, Gordon L.; Ky, Catherine N. (1993). “Music and spatial task performance”. Nature 365 (6447): 611.

2. Moore, Kimberly S. “The Mozart Effect Doesn’t Work.but here are some things that do. .” PsychologyToday, 18 May 2010. Web. 12 Sept. 2012. <>.

3. Perham, Nick, and Joan Vizard. “Can preference for background music mediate the irrelevant sound effect?” Applied Cognitive Psychology 25.420 July (2011). Web. 10 Sept. 2012. <>.

4. Landau, Ellizabeth. “Music may harm your studying, study says.” CNN, 27 July 2010. Web. 10 Sept. 2012. <>.

5. Lesiuk, Teresa. “The effect of music listening on work performance.” Psychology of Music 33.2 Apr. (2005). Web. 10 Sept. 2012. <>.

6. Baker, S L. “Music benefits the brain, research shows.” N.p., 30 July 2010. Web. 10 Sept. 2012. <>.

Brainscape is a web & mobile education platform that helps you learn anything faster, using cognitive science. Join the millions of students, teachers, language learners, test-takers, and corporate trainees who are doubling their learning results. Visit or find us on the App Store .

1 comment

Saeed Baig 3 years ago

Interesting; from what I can gather, most papers imply that background music tends to decrease study productivity. But I've also seen a couple say that it's specifically helpful for software developers.
What's a Computer Science student to do?

comments powered by Disqus