Does Music Help Memory?

When was the last time you studied without distractions? Or did any one activity without simultaneously doing another?

Multitasking pops up everywhere. While we work, we check our phones for messages, tweet our thoughts, listen to music, and update our Facebook status. At least that’s what my students tell me they do in their other classes.

You may think listening to music while you prep for a big test helps you relax so you can concentrate and study. I used to think so. In college, I’d sit down with my textbooks, pop in my headphones, and turn on my favorite music to set the mood for studying.  Then I’d spend hours going over the material—and play my make-believe drums or air guitar! Yes, I studied alone in college. A lot.

Listening to music may help college-aged students stay focused, but one new study found that older adults had more trouble remembering information they had learned while music was played in the background.

The study challenged younger and older adults to listen to music while trying to remember names. For the older adults, silence was golden. But when the researchers made the older adults listen to music while they tried to remember the names, their memory lapsed. College-aged participants’ performance did not suffer regardless of whether they listened to music while memorizing names.

Before you turn up the tunes to study, consider your age first. If you’re a younger college student, keep pressing play. Older students might be better off studying in silence. Regardless of our age, we might do well by taking a few minutes each day to set aside distractions, slow down, and become mindful of our thoughts, feelings, and environment.