An ongoing debate focuses on whether or not music belongs in your workspace. From studying to working in an office to exercising, many different researchers have considered what effect music has on our brains, and how we should as a society embrace or shun music in spaces that require a certain amount of concentration.

Let's take a look at the available research so that we can understand how music supports the brain and the places where it serves as a distraction.

1. Strengthen your brain

When we are talking about how to encourage children to be more creative, thoughtful, empathetic, and have better fine-motor skills, researchers have long since known that playing an instrument is a crucial tool.

Most of us have brains that are larger on either the right or left side; this roughly correlates to our skills with logic and creativity, although the processes are much more complicated than that explanation indicates. Musicians, however, have brains that are much more likely to be symmetrical.

They show higher scores on traditional intelligence tests, indicating that the two sides of their brain work better together. Researchers have also found that musicians have improved spatial relationship skills, showing a correlation between music and visual skills that we don't fully understand yet.

While it does seem to be playing music that causes the biggest improvements in brain function, it's still important to understand the dramatic effects that music can have on our brains.

2. Eases task fatigue

When you ask researchers "Will music help me complete this task," the first question they tend to ask in response is "What is the task?"

When you need to complete a repetitive task that doesn't require a great deal of attention once it is learned, music is a critical way to reduce task fatigue. Task fatigue refers to how completing a task over and over can start to feel boring and frustrating.

By having music to distract your brain from the repetitiveness of tasks, workers can generally continue to work for longer without needing a break to recharge. This can increase productivity.

3. Reduces sensory input

With more awareness of autism and ADHD in the public sphere, it's likely that employers may start to have employees explaining that they will do better at work if they can put on headphones playing their own music. Research supports the idea that simple noise suppression is uncomfortable, but that in busy environments, having some music to focus on can make sensory input bearable.

In situations like these, having adults choose their own music can be a crucial accommodation.

4. Improves mood

We have long since known that music increase dopamine production, so much so that music therapy is a valid technique in some situations. Dopamine is the brain chemical that is released during rewards, so having music boosting dopamine levels while completing tasks can help us feel rewarded and powerful while completing tasks that otherwise can feel very frustrating.

5. Stay focused in the moment

One of the ways that music is particularly helpful is that it marks the passage of time. Especially when you're working on something repetitive and not particularly engaging, time can seem to dilate. This makes you feel like ages must have passed, while very little time has actually gone by.

Since music creates a more deliberate demarcation in time, it's easier to keep your perception of time accurate, and not get discouraged by feeling like you've been doing the job forever.

6. Create community

If you've ever been a fan of a band, music, or song, you know that community can be created around music. Many people think of "What type of music do you listen to" or "Who are your favorite artists" to be great icebreaker conversations. Talking about music gives us a chance to get to know another person without delving too deeply into personal particulars.

In a work environment, where supporting work friendships helps to create a positive work environment, the community can be a valuable benefit.

7. Support positive work environment

Many offices are moving towards open office spaces. These areas are believed to be good for collaboration, good for morale, and easier to afford and maintain. But they can also be loud, distracting, and frustrating.

Allowing employees to bring in their own music to listen to on headphones can greatly help employees to focus and avoid distractions. Even if they only put one headphone on or earbud in, so that they can hear someone trying to catch their attention, their ability to focus and concentrate will probably be dramatically improved.

8. Increase motivation

When we are less bored by tasks and less frustrated at needing to complete a particular assignment, we are more motivated to get our work done. This has benefits for employees who need to do many highly repetitive tasks as well as those who have many roles they love to play, and one they dread.

When employees aren't dragged down by one task after another, they are happier at work overall and have more energy for all of their work. Even the things they normally enjoyed can be approached with more joy and innovation.

Overall, music can have an important role to play in modern work environments. Researchers have found that some types of music are better for workplaces than others; music without lyrics and music that incorporates the sounds of the natural world are more relaxing than music with lyrics. Familiar music is more relaxing than new music.

Letting employees choose their own musical options is likely to give you the best results. Requiring headphones, so that other employees get their own choices without interference, is probably the most customizable solution.

Have you incorporated music into your workspace or study space? What results have you seen?

 

 

Published on: Feb 3, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.