Are you paying attention? No really, are you?

As I sit blogging at the family Mac, I have three other pages open for research, my iTunes account is up running as well as my word page for note taking, my laptop is beside me so I can read pdf’s as well as my iPhone in case I receive any “important” texts. Some (mostly my Mum) would say this is an overload of noise and therefore a severe distraction from completing anything to a high standard. Others would say that I am simply demonstrating a modern technologically focused example of multi-tasking. But what if these two views are put together: I am multi-tasking, but I am also being quite distracting moving from one thought process to the next, slowly loosing concentration, and why is that?

The concept of mulit-tasking is that the individual can complete more than one task at the same time. However, the only way that this can be done successfully requires two elements: The first is that at least one of the tasks being untaken must be so well learned that it requires little thought (i.e. walking) and the second is that the two tasks being completed must involved different types of brain processing. It is for this reason an individual can exercise or paint or even drive whilst listening to music. But why is there such a debate about whether studying and music can work together?

There is an overarching thought that music in general has negative impacts on ones ability to concentrate, however, upon more thorough consideration it is important to note that it is the kind of music being consumed as well as the individual. Music with lyrics activates the language section of the brain and can therefore hinder study when the subject requires word construction or concentration on language, yet this same form of music can be incredibly useful with spurring on students who are finalising mathematic equations. In the same way some students found classical music was enough of a distraction from external ‘noise’, but simple enough that they could focus almost entirely on the task at hand.

BrainFacts.org describes multi-tasking in a different way acknowledging a study conducted by the National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM) the focus was how the brain reacted when two or more tasks were being undertaken. This study found that a prefrontal cortex which spans across the front of the brain in effect splits in half or rather the two sides were able to function separately when completing two seperate tasks. It was also found that when one tasks completion would recieve a reward, that task took priority. This could be something as simple as when you are listening to music and your favourite song somes on, the section you are studying or your train of thought will jump to focus on the song rather than the work. This is the potential danger of listening to music that is of direct interest to the studier.

do-you-listen-to-music-while-studying_530787e5e5973_w1500-640x1413
http://dailyinfographic.com/do-you-listen-to-music-while-studying-infographic

However an incorrect use of music is not the only distractor of ones ability to study. In a report by Annie Murphy Paul 263 American school and college students were observed during their designated study time. The outcome of the research was that only 63% of time was actuallly used to complete work while the other 37% was spent on other social media outlets. Although I agree with these findings and know I myself am I fine example of how not to study the majority of the time, I found the methods in which this study was conducted to be a little unsettling. In this I mean the students were only observed for 15 minutes, not every student had the same level of task to complete (“something important” was the requirement) and with each student there was a strange individual, their observer sitting in, changing the dynamic of a normal study environment. However, I will agree with the statement “It’s multitasking while learning that has the biggest potential downside … when students are doing serious work with their minds, they have to have focus.”

The end result from this research is that studying with music can be a useful tool, however, that music must find the balance between being interesting enough to lift the students mood, but not distracting enough that the students ends up singing and forgets where in the essay they were up to. It is also important that the subject of study is receiving the necessary attention and not being drowned out by other multi-media distractions.

Elizabeth Axford, an online instructor in the University of Phoenix College of Humanities and Sciences, she has determined that there is no definitive answer on whether studying with music is appropriate. “Based on everything I’ve read, it really depends on the individual. Some students can study effectively with music playing, while others are distracted by any outside stimulus.”

So if you are student reading who needs to listen to some jamming toons while studying, feel free to keep your ear-phones in, just maybe avoid the Top 30 Hits. However, the phone sitting beside the key board with Snapchats, messenger alerts and texts, yeah, that is a distraction!

 

References:

Psychology Today 2014, Technology: Myth of Multitasking, Accessed 27th of September 2014,  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201103/technology-myth-multitasking

BrainFacts.org 2014, The Multitasking Mind, Accessed 26th of September 2014,  http://www.brainfacts.org/sensing-thinking-behaving/awareness-and-attention/articles/2013/the-multitasking-mind/

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