You may want to think twice about listening to music when you tackle a project

Do you pop in your air pods at the office before launching into your next assignment? So many people do it: Listen to music at work. But new research indicates it may not be the best way to focus on the task at hand.

A recent research article in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology suggests that, contrary to what most people believe, background music impairs creativity. Researchers from the United Kingdom tested three different kinds of music, and none of them were good news for workers who want to get their creative juices flowing.


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Researchers had participants complete Compound Remote Associate Tasks — which are believed to use creativity — in quiet conditions and with three different types of background music: Music with foreign lyrics (so that participants couldn’t understand them), instrumental music sans lyrics and music with familiar lyrics. Each of the three experiments arrived at the same conclusion – “Music decreased creativity to approximately the same extent one might have expected it to have increased,” according to the article.

Complete silence

In fact, regardless of whether the background music put listeners in a good mood or whether participants were used to studying around music, the third experiment suggested that any background music had negative consequences for creative thinking.

“We found strong evidence of impaired performance when playing background music in comparison to quiet background conditions,” Neil McLatchie, one of the article’s authors, said in a release.

So basically it looks like working at Starbucks or any other coffee shop is off limits; even jazz instrumentals could mess with your thought processes. And don’t even think about using headphones at work — unless they’re just meant to cancel out noise.

Or really, do what you want. Everyone knows what works for them. But beware: If you’re having a hard time getting creative, your jams may be to blame.


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