May 7, 2014, by khyx2lyn

Does Listening to Music Help Improve Our Productivity?

When I first found myself working in an office shared with about 25 other people, I was a little overwhelmed from my colleagues busily typing away on their keyboards and laptops. So, to cope with that, I started plugging in my headphones with the playlists of the day on loop. The music did help with my concentration and work, however there were moments where I found myself working more effectively when the room was simply quiet. This got me wondering whether listening to music while working actually helps with productivity or does it actually hinder the performance? Does music help us focus more?

According to Paul’s article on Time (2012), there aren’t many studies on the subject as yet, and the results found from previous studies do not give a simple and conclusive answer to our question. There are various factors that come into play and on many occasions it actually depends on the individual.

Past studies have discovered that listening to classical or instrumental music helps our mental performance more than songs with lyrics in them. This is because the language center in the brain is activated when we listen to music with lyrics and it interferes with tasks we’re carrying out that involve languages (Moore, 2010). On the other hand, research also shows that music only improves our performance under certain conditions. For example, Perham and colleagues (2010) found that when we are trying to remember new information, it is best to do so in a quiet environment because music acts as a distraction during cognitively demanding tasks.

Conversely, music does help us get into the working mode by improving our moods; hence it is encouraged to listen to music that you like whenever you find it difficult to start your day (Moore, 2010). Lesiuk (2005) also found that by playing background music when software developers worked helped enhance their curiosity which is the ideal mindset for creative work. Furthermore, music helps improve one’s perception while working, hence producing better quality work. Moreover, when one listens to music during routine tasks such as filing papers, it helps make the tasks less dull and more enjoyable (Fox & Embrey, 1972). One of the reasons music helps improve our mood because it can “stimulate the release of dopamine, a chemical produced in the reward area of the brain” which is linked to positive mood.

Meanwhile, the tempo or beats of the music we’re listening to could affect certain types of brain waves (Moore, 2010), thus fast paced songs are played in gyms because it makes us feel more energetic while slower tempo songs relaxes us.  So, by listening to your favourite music, it could help reduce your level of stress and anxiety (Iwanaga & Moroki, 1999).

As mentioned previously, the effect of music on one’s work productivity actually depends on the individual. One of the factors is our personality, a study conducted by Lesiuk in 1992 found that extroverted traffic controllers experienced less anxiety when music is played at work but it has less impact on introverts. Moreover, if you’re not used to listening to music while working, it may take a while to get used to it.

So, does music actually help us focus more and produce better quality work or does it hinder our performance? From the likes of past research, there is still no simple yes or no answer, however, we have discovered what kinds of music help us in certain situations and under what circumstances music actually worsens our performance. And on many occasions it depends on the individual. So, don’t be afraid to experiment and see what suits you.


  • Fox, J. G., & Embrey, E. D. (1972). Music – an aid to productivity. Applied Ergonomics, 3(4), 202-205.
  • Iwanaga, M., & Moroki, Y. (1999). Subjective and Physiological Responses to Music Stimuli Controlled Over Activity and Preference. Journal of Music Therapy, 36(1), 26-38.
  • Lesiuk, T. (1992) ‘The Effect of Preferred Music Listening on Stress Levels of Air Traffic Controllers’, unpublished master’s thesis, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado.
  • Lesiuk, T. (2005). The effect of music listening on work performance. Psychology of Music, 33(2), 173-191. doi: 10.1177/0305735605050650
  • Moore, K. S. (2010, May 4). Music and Productivity: 5 Ideas for Using Music to Boost Performance. Retrieved January 27th, 2014, from
  • Paul, A. M. (2012, September 12). Does Listening to Music While Working Make You Less Productive? Retrieved January 27th, 2014, from

Yvonne Teoh
(PhD Student, School of Psychology, UNMC)

Posted in attentionbehaviourblogcognitive psychologylanguagememorymusicpostgraduatepsychobabblepsychologyresearchsocial psychologystudent lifeunmc