The effect of preferred background music on sustained attention

Can you think of tasks you do regularly that demand a low level of sustained attention? It could be something that is repetitive and doesn’t really require deep thought.

At the BBB office, we immediately said house cleaning! It is not hard to do, but it is repetitive, requires lots of movement patterns, and has to get done for our households to function. We can lose our attention halfway through and end up doing only half the washing.

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This study looks at how music can affect our sustained attention, and it is following a common human behaviour. When we have to do a task, many people often choose to put music on in the background rather than complete the task in silence. The researchers found that “background music increased the proportion of task-focus states by decreasing mind-wandering states but did not affect external distraction states.”

A task-focused state has two parts; reaction time and mind-wandering. This is mediated by our attention which means that we pay attention enough to reaction and maintain our attention enough not to get distracted.

The study found that reaction times were not improved by music but that there was less mind wandering which seemed to help particularly on tasks that placed a low demand for brain processing.

So next time you find yourself doing your regular low-demanding tasks, throw on some music and see if your brain wanders less from the task. What music will you choose?

Read more here

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