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Listening to music actually kills creativity at work

The jury is in on music at work. Image: Getty

Listening to background music at work has a negative effect on creativity, a new study has found.

The UK study, published in the journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology, confirmed what a lot of workers suspected: while background music is often claimed to be a creativity-enhancer, it actually has the opposite effect.

But, a low level of background noise, like in a library or office, actually enhances creativity.

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Researchers Emma Threadgold, John E. Marsh, Neil McLatchie and Linden J. Ball from the University of Central Lancashire and Lancaster University asked study participants to solve 19 puzzles while listening to a song in Spanish, an instrumental version of the Spanish song, a song in English or complete silence.

In every instance, the participants listening to music were less successful at solving the puzzles than the participants working in silence.

And another group of participants who listened to library noise suffered no adverse effects on their puzzle success.

This could be because as we exercise our creativity, we try out different combinations of words or ideas in our minds.

Music blocks this due to its changes in pitch, timbre and beat. Because of this, classical music – which is less disruptive in sound – is also less disruptive to creativity.

Music can also impair our ability to remember, which also impacts our ability to solve problems.

How much does music impact creativity?

To roughly the same degree that we expect it to increase creativity, the researchers found.

And, while we might think that unfamiliar songs or songs in a different language have a lesser effect (as we’re not singing along), that’s also not the case.

So that’s that workplace debate solved. Now, is eating tuna at your desk really antisocial?

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