Can music have a positive impact on teaching and learning in higher education?

If certain types of music are proven to help us focus, should universities consider incorporating it into the higher education learning experience?  

Music streaming services today are filled with playlists that have been curated to support long periods of focus and concentration 

But is there any evidence to support the correlation between music and concentration, and if so, how can universities incorporate music into the higher education experience? 

Given that it might boost academic performance, should universities consider playing music in study spaces or lecture theatres, or encouraging students and faculty to work alongside music in their personal study time? 

The link between music and improved performance can be traced back to 1993, when Rauscher et al made the claim that listening to Mozart improved spatial reasoning skills in a hypothesis known as ‘the Mozart effect‘. 

Since then, numerous studies have attempted to confirm this observation, with many focusing on the role music can play in concentration and learning. 

So, what does the research show?  

2007 study from the Stanford University School of Medicine revealed “experimental evidence for dissociable and causally linked ventral and dorsal networks during event segmentation of ecologically valid auditory stimuli”. 

In simpler terms, the study demonstrated that classical music engages the areas of the brain involved with paying attention, making predictions and updating the event in memory”. 

However, not every study agrees when it comes to the effects of music on learning performance.  

One study by Janina A. M. Lehmann and Tina Seufert did not find a mediation effect between background music and arousal or mood on learning outcomes”, as well as no effects on “working memory capacity” which they do highlight as being contradictory to the results of a number of previous studies.  

The global consensus among research is that, while it might work for some, there is little evidence to support music as having a significant impact on learning and concentration, with background music having “a small but persistent negative effect on memory performance” in some scenarios. 

The decision to play music while studying should therefore remain a personal one, and universities are likely to face repercussions if they begin playing music in communal study spaces and lecture theatres. 

However, there is a proven link between mood and music, with it having the potential to “evoke powerful emotional responses”. 

With various studies demonstrating the causal link between listening to music and the release of dopaminethere is certainly argument to suggest that music can help motivate you to complete certain tasks or work harder at these tasks 

With this in mind, there’s no stopping students and faculty using music to lift their mood and spark motivationsomething that is of particular importance after such a challenging year for higher education.  

For insights into how the higher education sector is changing as a result of the coronavirus crisis, please see our latest report: Vaccines and virtual lectures: How international students are adapting to higher education in 2021. 


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