Listening to music can make us unfocused and forgetful

Listening to music can make us unfocused and forgetful

While some of us listen to music to help us relax when trying to concentrate, a new study revealed that doing so could actually prevent us from remembering what we’re focusing. This is especially true for older people.

Simply put, listening to music can make us unfocused and forgetful. Researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology arrived at this conclusion after an experiment that involved challenging College-aged participants and older adults to listen to music while trying to remember names associated with faces.

The younger participants had no problems remembering names. Thus, listening to music didn’t affect their performance. However, older adults remembered 10% fewer names when listening to music. Note that this also applies to other background music or noise.

Through the experiment, the researchers wanted to test the effects of music and background noises on associative memory, which includes the ability to link and remember faces and names. They highlighted the fact that both music and background noises are part of everyday life. Thereby, their experiment intends to replicate real-life situations.

“Both age groups agreed that the music was distracting,” said Sarah Reaves, lead researcher and a psychology graduate from Georgia Institute of Technology. “But only the older adults struggled while it was playing in the background.”

The researchers further linked the findings with the so-called cocktail party effect—a phenomenon that permits a person to focus his or her attention solely on one conversation even while surrounded by multiple conversations and other background noises.

“Older adults have trouble ignoring irrelevant noises and concentrating,” said Audrey Duarte, research advisor and head of Memory and Aging Lab at Georgia Institute of Technology. “Associative memory also declines with age. As we get older, it’s harder to remember what name went with a face or where a conversation took place.”

Nonetheless, the study has several implications on elderly care. For example, Reaves said employees and healthcare workers at assisted living centers should refrain from playing music during learning activities.

There are also other implications relating to productivity and day-to-day practicality. Reaves said, “Similarly, older adults who struggle to concentrate while meeting with co-workers at a coffee shop, for example, should schedule meetings in quieter locations. When people get lost while driving, it’s probably best to turn off the radio.”

Further details of the study are found in the article “Turn Off the Music! Music Impairs Visual Associative Memory Performance in Older Adults” published in The Gerontologist journal.