Home » 7th Season: 2019-2020 » 2019-2020 v.05 » The Impact of Music on Completing Tasks: A Psychology Case Study

The Impact of Music on Completing Tasks: A Psychology Case Study

By Grace Gibbons and Alie Hyland, VI Form

The Impact of Music on Completing Tasks: A Psychology Case Study

As high school students, we spend a lot of time completing homework assignments and studying each day. We noticed that some of our peers choose to listen to music during study hours, while others prefer silence in order to remain focused. Both of us have different preferences, so we conducted this study to determine the impact of music on concentration while completing a task. 

Research previously conducted on this topic indicates that listening to music impacts cognitive ability in various ways. Music will either enhance or negatively impact studying depending on the type of work the student is completing. If a student is working on a complex task that requires complete focus or processing multiple pieces of information, then background music may hinder their concentration. (Kuepper-Tetzel 2016). Music can enhance student performance by blocking out outside noises and distractions, helping the student fully focus on their assignment. We chose the task of a word scramble for our study since it requires full concentration from the student and the lyrics may interfere with processing.

Based on our research, we hypothesized that music without lyrics will show the best results in terms of correctness on the word scramble. There will not be any outside influences distracting the participants which support our claim. Those who listen to music will become distracted by the lyrics because the words in the song will interfere with their thinking process. When completing a word scramble, the participant must arrange words in their head, and the words in the song lyrics will become mixed up with the participant’s thoughts.

We are defining “music without lyrics” as instrumental versions of popular songs, “music with lyrics” as a shuffled playlist of today’s top hits, and “no music” as no music at all. Correctness is based on the number of correct answers out of 25.

Our participants consisted of three students from the 4th form, three students from the 5th form, three students from the 6th form, and three faculty members. The groups for each music category were assigned randomly, but one member of each grade was placed into each music category. The independent variable in our experiment is the type of music. Our participants were students and faculty working in the library during study hall, so each participant had the same surroundings and a relatively equal number of distractions. The dependent variable in this study is the amount of correct answers out of 25 questions.

For our procedure, students and faculty were randomly assigned into one of the following categories: music with lyrics, instrumental music, and no music. We asked the participant to unscramble as many words as possible on the sheet of 25 state capitals in 10 minutes or fewer. After the participant completed the task, we asked them how they believed the music affected their concentration. When deciding what music to use, we sought it appropriate to use a playlist of “today’s top hits” for regular music so most participants were familiar with the songs they were listening to. For music without lyrics, we chose Alie’s instrumental playlist because we were confident that the music did not have any lyrics. Lastly, for no music, we simply instructed the participants to just complete the word scramble.

Our results show a clear trend: participants who did not listen to music had a higher number of correct answers than those listening to music with lyrics and those listening to instrumental music. The average amount of correct answers for the group that listened to music with lyrics was 7.5, for instrumental music it was 10.5, and for the no music group it was 14.75 (Figure 1). This indicates that listening to music while completing a verbal task interferes with the student’s level of concentration; however, no music will not impede their ability to complete the task. Most of the participants who listened to music with lyrics claimed that the song lyrics interfered with mental word processing, so they understood the influence of music on completing verbal tasks. Those who did not listen to music while completing the task said that the silence helped them concentrate rather than being distracted by background noises like music. Most of the participants who listened to instrumental music claimed it had little to no affect on their performance. 

The results from this experiment prove that music with lyrics can distract students from completing verbal tasks. The majority of our participants shared that they listen to music while working; however, our results prove that this practice is not always beneficial. Students should evaluate the impact of music on their own work, regardless of personal preference, for in the process they will hopefully discover the benefit of working without music. 

We hypothesized that music without lyrics will show the best results in terms of correct answers on the word scramble. Our results proved this hypothesis to be true (Figure 2). Sequentially, participants without music answered the most correct answers, followed by music without lyrics, and following that was music with lyrics. In the future, we would modify this experiment by evaluating a larger group of participants to see how the data is impacted. Another way to enhance this experiment is by using participants of a larger variety of ages and from different areas. We only studied students and faculty at St. Mark’s, so evaluating a group with different educational backgrounds might impact the results. We could also evaluate the impact of music on other topics, such as math, that would potentially not be affected by lyrics since language processing is not necessary to complete the task. 

Figure 1
Figure 2

Grace Gibbons is a VI form boarding student from Wakefield, Rhode Island. She loves studying psychology, Spanish, and English, and she competes in soccer, hockey, and crew.

Alie Hyland is a VI form day student from Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. She enjoys photography, playing soccer, and working with children.


Kuepper-Tetzel, C. (2016, November 10). Listening to Music while Studying: A Good or a Bad Idea? Retrieved from https://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/11/10-1.

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