So yesterday one of my good friends, who also happens to be a co-worker at my fucking day job, sent me a link to a story in the online edition of The Washington Post under the headline, “Is Listening To Music Making You Worse At Your Job?” It reported on the results of recent psychology research about whether people perform better or worse on the job while listening to music.
Researchers found that when people performed “cognitive tasks”, they did worse when listening on headphones to music they like. And then the article said this:
“Not ready to ditch your headphones quite yet? There is one fix: The researchers found that participants listening to music they decidedly did not enjoy – in this case, a song from “grind core metal band” Repulsion – actually did better than those tuning into music they liked. The researchers chalk that up to a lack of ‘acoustical variation’ in the music, which likely made it less distracting.”
My first thought was “Fuck yeah! Proof that listening to grind improves job performance!” And then I read that paragraph more slowly. Apparently, listening to grind only improves your performance if you don’t like grind.
So I decided to root around some more and I found a more detailed article about the study, which compared the performance effect of “Acid Bath” by Repulsion to a pop song by a band called Infernal. Here’s what it said:
“The fast-tempo ‘extreme guitar-based’ music of Repulsion, the researchers explained, is like ‘a cacophony of sound, in which the segmentation of each individual sound from the next is difficult to identify’. This means it has less acoustic variation from one moment to the next, which helps explain why, even though disliked, it had a less detrimental effect on serial recall than Infernal’s pop song.”
The researchers excluded people who liked grind from the study, so we don’t know whether people who like grind would perform better or worse while listening to it than by listening to music with more “acoustic variation” or just dead fucking silence.
This study also omits another important question: if you listened to grind while working, would you want to rip the throat out of the next motherfucker who tried to jack with you? I’m pretty sure I would. On the other hand, I pretty much feel that way all the time when I’m at work.
There’s yet another flaw in this study: not all grind is “a cacophony of sound, in which the segmentation of each individual sound from the next is difficult to identify”. A lot of grind that I’ve been listening to lately has a lot of variation in the tempos, and the riffs are like jackhammers that move my head up and down and side to side and sometimes send it flying across the room.
Take the song that’s featured in this new video by a band from France named Unsu. I’m pretty sure I’d have a hard time getting any cognitive shit done while listening to this song. In fact, when I heard it the first time, I dented the wall of my workspace and put a crack in my desk. With my head.
The song is named “The Filthy”, and its off the debut EP from Unsu, also named The Filthy, that was released by Kaotoxin Records earlier this year. It’s fuckin’ filthy. And the video is yet another awesome accomplishment of Dead Parrot Productions, who seem to have a magic touch.
So, where does that leave us? Here are my conclusions:
1. Get a job that doesn’t require “cognitive tasks”. I’m thinking about chicken sexing.
2. Listen to Repulsion all the fuckin’ time.
3. Become unemployed and lay around all day like a sloth until the money runs out. Then kill yourself.
4. Figure out how to become a psychological researcher. Or a paid psychological test subject. Because doing nothing of any conceivable utility for money sounds like a solid strategy to me.
So, here are a couple of questions for all of you (and no, I ain’t fuckin’ paying you for your answers): Do you listen to music when you work (whether it’s a job or school or whatever)? And if you do, what do you listen to? Do you think music helps or distracts you?
And while you’re pondering those weighty subjects, here’s more filthy Unsu music. Maybe it will help you think . . . or maybe it won’t.
[wp_bandcamp_player type=”album” id=”3850707704″ size=”grande3″ bg_color=”#000000″ link_color=”#4285BB”]
I am a grad student in art history. Ugh, I know, you said ‘job’. Whatever. That means I do tons of writing and reading. I do way better with music, which actually helps keep me from getting distracted, to a point. I listen to stuff in the vein of Bolt Thrower, Teitanblood, Krallice, and Abominable Putiridity when working. When the music slows too much (Coffinworm, Corrupted) or gets too technical (Decrepit Birth, Gojira) then it can be hard to focus. The payoff with tech death reading/writing sessions is that even though i have to spaz out occasionally I tend to work better than with silence because my brain is going a bajillion miles an hour, so the thoughts per minute count goes up, even if most of them are still dumb, there are more good ones in there in sheer number. Also, I’ve found that the epic stoner thrash like the Sword’s first album is totally mind de-railing. So, basically, I think I’m in strong but not total agreement with the “minor acoustical variation” concept. I think it’s helpful not just for keeping me going (metal can absolutely fuel my life) but also as a wall that keeps me being distracted by things outside of the immediate acoustic world, and if my mind goes over to the music, it can just bounce off that back to work.
I must be like the people in the study. I have a hard time concentrating on any work that requires thinking if I listen to metal that I enjoy. I find myself drifting into the music and drifting away from the work. I have no trouble working when there’s background noise of other activity going on around me — I can wall that off in my head pretty easily — but not good metal.
Also, I think the presence or absence of a lot of “acoustic variation” doesn’t have much to do with it in my case. Maybe people who don’t listen to metal and don’t like it wouldn’t notice the acoustic variation in the music and would think of it as just a wall of cacophony, but that’s not how I hear it, even in the case of straight-up powerviolence. The one thing I haven’t tried is listening to metal I don’t like while trying to work, but what’s the point of that?
Same here. If it’s good music, then I want to pay attention to it. But I think it’s a different style of listening, too. If you’re a person that treats music as just “fun background noise,” then it probably won’t distract you as much. If you’re a close listener, though, then it’s a whole different game.
That said, I find it much easier to work while listening to music when I’m using it to drown out the inane chatter of my coworkers.
I’m pretty sure I’d be work just fine listening to Infernal all day .. in fact I know it.
HA! That’s a great discovery! That’s a REAL infernal band, unlike this piece of foulness they used in the study:
Infernal’s first s/t EP (1999) was great, the second EP wasn’t as spot on, and I’ve not heard the one from 2010, guess I’ll have to hunt it down one day. Very much the same story as WAR (which of course Blackmoon was in as well), their first EP was great but subsequent releases never really lived up to the it.
I listen to music nearly 100% of the time at work, and I listen to everything from funeral doom to grind and anything else I like. It keeps me focused and makes even the most mundane tasks bearable.
What they really need to study is how people perform over an 8-hour day with or without music. I guarantee the person listening to music is more productive at hour 6 than the other guy. It’s just like doing chores at home. If I don’t have music playing, I’ll do a little bit, then get distracted and want to do something else. If I have music playing, I can get so much more done.
They could also stand to study listening to music or not in an actual office environment, where there’s noise everywhere. And people are more reluctant to bother you with unimportant crap if you have your headphones on.
I completely agree about the benefits of listening to metal while doing chores at home or while doing anything that requires physical activity. It allows me to get more done without stopping and makes the time pass more quickly. But work that requires thinking is a different issue for me. But since you mention funeral doom, I’m thinking that might be a good option. Metal that’s really slow and really low might not be as much of a mental distraction.
Thinking is pretty much all I do. Silence distracts me. I find that music, especially music that I like, tends to “occupy” that part of my brain that gets distracted, freeing the rest of it to perform the tasks at hand. It also relaxes me, and I am much more productive when relaxed than when I’m stressed, tense, or squirrelly.
Have you tried eating nuts when you’re feeling squirrelly?
Or tried eating your nuts?
I work in law enforcement and go to college full time and when I am at work or writing a paper I have to have music on. Usually i am listening to like The Black Dahlia Murder, Obscura, Necrophagist, Arkhe, Acheode, Carach Angren, Sceptic, Beyond Creation, lykathea Aflame, Dew Scented, or Prostitute Disfigurement. I actually wrote a 5000 word research paper in 10 hours listening to Spawn of Possession. During work it keeps me from snapping on some dumb motherfuckers
Man, working for 10 hours on a paper while listening to Spawn! I could probably do that, but the result would look like it was written in an alien language. I might be able to invent a whole new alphabet without meaning to.
“For what language?” one shudders to wonder…
Depends on which wormhole would open up through listening to Spawn for 10 hours.
Might it be the wormhole to the secret, purple level of Wolfenstein?
Is Wolfenstein a reanimated corpse made from wolve parts? I hope so!
Music is the lubrication I use to keep the mental-cock fucking my brain-hole from getting chapped.
Bands who sample Apocalypse Now need to be poked in the nipples with somewhat dull sewing needles.
The music is good though.
Thank you for your usual eloquence. I am worried that I may be mental cock-fucking the wrong hole.
You’re only supposed to have one hole…………..
Maybe it’s someone else’s hole?
Oh, that’s an exciting thought! I hope it’s human.
Probably not…my money is on a pizza partly eaten by mice.
Music doesn’t help me do work. On account of my not having a job.
But I’ve found that sometimes when I do homework or something similar (even reading a blog) it varies widely… sometimes I don’t even pay attention to the music and automatically tune it out, sometimes I have to turn it off because it makes it harder to concentrate, sometimes–although I think it’s more rare–I listen to the music and don’t do anything, and sometimes it facilitates work and I can sort of subconsciously listen to it in the back of my mind.
Don’t know why it changes so much. Guess it has something to do with the mood I’m in?
Working on schoolwork is still mental work, even if no one is paying you to do it, so that counts. Maybe mood accounts for the variation you;re experiencing, or could it be differences in what you’re listening to?
One has reached a point where one has some music on all the time, whether or not one is really listening. But, when one has some task at hand requiring mental focus, the “less acoustic variation” or the mellower, the better, one feels.
But, one does feel the need for more intense music while performing physical tasks.
I guess I’m closer to your situation than to the others in these comments. Though even when it comes to mellow music, in my case it has to be pretty bland and ambient not to distract me, and again, what’s the point in listening to that?
Well, one doesn’t choose the bland. There’s just mellower/blander than… the least mellow/bland.
Some bands are just easier to ignore when one needs to. e.g: One can relax and write or study while listening
to Ulver‘s Perdition City. But, one would be unable to block out Strapping Young Lad‘s Alien – which feels more suitable for workouts. One equally enjoys both of them when one is actively listening though.
I do pretty much all my writing to the Tron Legacy soundtrack, Lustmord, Silent Hill Soundtracks or some other instrumental disc. Also, I can’t listen to a CD as I am reviewing it. I think I wrote one of my latest while listening to Symphony X.
One tends to get absorbed into listening to the Tron: Legacy soundtrack – simply knowing its Daft Punk. 😀
Sort of the same, if I’m reading or writing I tend to put on classical music – it’ll block out the outside world and let me think, if I’m just doing regular work I do that just fine with any sort of metal blasting.
I don’t listen to music…
Music listens to ME.
Does it headbang to you as well?
But… You’re music too.
I saw that article yesterday too and thought, “This sounds like a fundamentally flawed study. How did this thing ever get funded?” I should have known you’d dig deeper into the details. There’s no way to tell from the study design, but I think they may be right that productivity is affected more by specific qualities of the music than by listener’s taste. I listen to metal at work for the energy and because it’s easy to ignore the words. When I listen to other styles of music I’m likely to start transcribing lyrics into the middle of my reports.
It may still be fundamentally flawed. 🙂 But that’s kind of how I eventually understood the point — that people are more likely to be distracted by music they like than by music they don’t like, at least if the music they like is more “acoustically varied” than music they don’t like. But judging from the comments to this post, that conclusion sure doesn’t seem to be universally true. Lots of people seem to listen to metal they like — and pretty raucous metal at that — while doing mental work and feel that it has positive effects.
HOWEVER, another conclusion of the study that I didn’t include in the post is this one: “A further intriguing detail from the study is the participants’ lack of insight into the degree of distraction associated with each type of music. Asked to judge their own performance, they determined correctly that their memory was more accurate in the quiet condition, but they didn’t realise that their performance was poorest whilst listening to the music they liked.”
So maybe people think that their work is enhanced by listening to metal they enjoy when it really isn’t. 🙂
Of course! We remember working in bored silence and assume the work product is as bad as the experience of creating it. We remember good metal happiness, and assume we are awesome.
Of course a final question involves how one measures productivity. If listening to music makes my day just bearable enough that I don’t say, “Take this job and shove it,” then it makes me more productive.
“If listening to music makes my day just bearable enough that I don’t say, “Take this job and shove it,” then it makes me more productive.” Vital point!
That study clearly needs to be re-done. It just measured mental performance by presenting twenty-five undergrads with strings of eight consonants and had them repeat the consonants back from memory in the correct order.
I worked in the most depressing, spirit-consuming cafeteria all through university, and music definitely helped. Unfortunately, the mariachi that one lady played also made me consider suicide bombing, so maybe it wasn’t that great.
Also: when they tell you to play softer, more melodic music, they don’t mean Anon Amarth. That was when I was really starting to get into brutal death, so I couldn’t figure out why they were so upset with AA. Fuck, you can understand all the fucking lyrics, can’t you??
Hell, they even complained about 3 Inches of Blood. Some people just hate good music.
Yeah, fuck all those people til they bleed from their eyes.
If someone paid me to listen to repulsion, I would be a happy man, a rich man too if they retroactively paid me for every time I had listened to Repulsion. I await further proof that grind is the best genre, even when you dislike it, its good for you.
Grind is like unicorn farts. But more awesome. And with blood.
Okay, I guess it’s like unicorn dysentery.
Fiery unicorn dysentery, the kind that would come after downing a bottle of habanero hot sauce.
I want to see a music video where a bunch of angry dudes in pig masks stomp the shit out of The Bunny The Bear.
I bet if we started a collection effort on Kickstarter we’d have enough to fund that in no time. Though getting cooperation from The Bunny The Bear might be a bigger challenge.
When you do pigfuck physical work, music is a godsend. Anything that’s steady and rhythmic helps the day pass faster and you develop a groove. Why do you think old warships had drummers?
When it comes to thinkin’ work music can be a pretty big hindrance, especially when you need a fine attention to detail.
“Why do you think old warships had drummers?”
To keep the rowers in rhythm and ensure that they did not foul their oars.
What do you mean “ensure that they did not foul their oars”?
You put a bunch of men on ships for long periods of time at sea, and they will foul their oars, with our without drums. Or so I’ve heard.
I find it hard to work without music. What music do I listen to while working? Just whatever I feel like at the moment – mostly metal of all types. Here lately I’ve been on a modern, technical death, or alt metal kick, but today is black. And no headphones for this guy. Cranking it through the comp speakers here at work – even as we speak! Their study is flawed in not taking into account the possible results of metalheads.
Damn, I wish I had some decent speakers at work and could just blast the metal through them at full volume. However, in my case this is pure fantasy, because I would get no work done and my co-workers would crucify me by lunch time. Still, I can dream . . .
Yeah, does like a flawed study to me… typical ‘metal is bad for you’ crap that passes for journalism.
I listen to music all the time at work (I’m a neuroscientist). In fact, I’d say having some metal cranking was a fundamental part of my PhD thesis… I can just think so much better with it. Like Full Metal Attorney says, you get to a point where some music just wakes you up, better than coffee ever could.
Also, quite often I use music just to block out background noise. Especially working in a shared, open plan office. Do I work better because of the music, or because all the other shit is drowned out? I can’t say for sure, but definitely some tunes to amp you up can make all the difference.
In general, I’d say music I’m familiar with is better work music, at least in terms of doing something that requires thinking – listening to a new album can be a bit distracting as you’re focusing on the music more. But if you happen to be doing something mindless, anything goes.
This comment again underscores the need for a new study, one that factors in things like the replacement of background noise distraction with a different kind of sound. I really do think, despite my crack about the meaninglessness of psychological research, that this is a subject worth thinking about. And particularly worth thinking about in the context of metal. It’s such a huge part of our lives, and the role it plays in our lives clearly goes a lot deeper than what people outside of metal have any inkling of.
“It’s such a huge part of our lives, and the role it plays in our lives clearly goes a lot deeper than
what people outside of metal have any inkling of.”
Fucking well said brother!
Ah, Infernal, the best of Danish exports… right after Aqua.
In fact I’ve just had a grueling period at work (preventing me from updating Metal Bandcamp..). One of the things I’ve been listening to most is a single 47 minutes track of funeral doom by Ea. It worked as very heavy ambient music for me, and helped me focus when I was getting tired.
I’m just listening to this epic right now. Paint me converted.