Background music ‘significantly impairs’ creativity

Do you use background music when you are completing a creative task? If you do, do you find that your creative output is better, more innovative or unexpected, or does the background music hinders these outputs?

In this study, the researchers used four conditions, meaning four different options for background sounds. These were background music with foreign (unfamiliar) lyrics, instrumental music without lyrics, music with familiar lyrics and no music. They asked the participants to complete a creative task, and this is where things get interesting. They described a creative task such as showing a participant three words (e.g., dress, dial, flower), with the requirement being to find a single associated word (in this case “sun”) that can be combined to make a common word or phrase (i.e., sundress, sundial and sunflower).

Research studies need to be designed very carefully in order to limit the amount of variables or factors that can influence the results. But when you think about your creative tasks, do they match the description above? They might not, but these types of tests have been found to show the type of thinking that has been identified as creativity.

Ultimately the researchers found that overall background music significantly impaired creativity on this measure, but here is the question – does it matter what type of creative task you are doing? If we look at the four conditions, what kind of creative tasks may be enhanced by background music? Here are our ideas

  • Background music with foreign (unfamiliar) lyrics – a creative task that is physical in nature such as organising materials to make a bookshelf,
  • instrumental music without lyrics – a writing task that was creative rather than analytical such as writing a story,
  • music with familiar lyrics – a visually based task such as art-making or graphic design
  • no music – a text-based task that required language analysis such as a book report.

How do you use (or don’t use) background music in your creative tasks?

Read more here

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