The next time you're struggling to finish up a task at work, throwing on some Bach or Beethoven may worth a try. That's the main conclusion of an experiment on British workers that found listening to classical music at work can improve productivity by 15%.
An initial survey of 2,000 UK employees revealed that half regularly listen to music on the job. Some of those employees' bosses reportedly encourage the practice, but others are strictly1 against it, believing it hurts work performance. So, British classical music station Scala Radio and psychologist Dr. Becky Spelman set out to determine if background music hurts or hinders workplace efficiency.
Four office workers were asked to transcribe2 two 600-word sets of song lyrics3. The first set was transcribed4 with no music playing, while the other was completed with classical music playing in the background.
The first task, completed in silence, was completed in an average time of 20 minutes and 59 seconds. However, the second transcription exercise that involved music was completed in an average time of 17 minutes and 42 seconds; a difference of three minutes and 17 seconds, or 15%.
"Music has a very powerful impact on the brain. It affects mood, mental performance and physical performance," says Dr. Spelman in a media release. "Many people find that listening to certain types of instrumental music can help them with their productivity levels. The music can function as a sort of 'white noise', cancelling out potentially distracting ambient noise."
"Provided the music has a calm, regular beat, it can actually help us to stay calm, reducing our stress, slowing our heartrate, and moderating our pulse," says Dr. Spelman. "This makes it easier for us to focus on the task at hand rather than entering into 'flight or fight' mode, in which it can be very difficult to think clearly because of our elevated levels of adrenaline and cortisol."
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