Effects of music genre on simple and simulated task switching.

AuthorYoung, Ethan

Effects of Music Genre on Simple and Simulated Task Switching


Hearing or listening to music is a part of everyday life for most people in the twenty-first century, whether it is heard at the store while picking up groceries, in the car while driving to work, or as a backdrop at the gym. Music has made its way into the work environment as well, commonly being heard in hotels, restaurants, retail stores, hospitals, banks, and offices.(1) Some studies suggest that background music improves worker performance, whereas others have shown it to have a negative effect on attention performance.(2) Thanks to contradictory results such as these, researchers have aimed to understand which aspects of music effect attention performance.

Yi-Nuo Shih, Rong-Hwa Huang, and Hsin-Yu Chiang studied the effects of background music with and without lyrics and found that songs with lyrics tended to distract listeners, resulting in a decrease in attention performance, and instrumental music without lyrics did not significantly effect attention performance.(3) In a similar study, Huang and Shih found that the more people either strongly liked or disliked the background music, the more their attention performance was negatively affected.(4) Peter Tze-Ming Chou compared the effects of hip-hop music, light classical music, and no music, finding that music of higher intensity (i.e. hip-hop) is more distracting and has a more substantial negative effect on task performance and concentration.(5)

This study is aimed at better understanding how attention performance on simple and complex tasks is affected by the presence of background music with and without lyrics. One notable model of attention that helps explain previous findings is Daniel Kahneman's limited capacity model.(6) In Kahneman's model, it is theorized that a person has only a limited amount of attention that can be deployed at any one time. This model has two precepts. First, attention can be distributed freely among different simultaneous tasks and attention is increased or decreased depending on the arousal level of each task. Second, performing multiple tasks requires the amount of attention required by the demand of each single task completed in seclusion, such as little attention being required for easy tasks, while more difficult tasks require more attention. Consequently, one may fail to perform a task because their supply of attention does not meet the demand. As the limited capacity theory has advanced, so have the explanations for attention interference. "One group of theorists argues that interference occurs when the general attentional capacity is exceeded. However, other theorists argue that interference occurs when two tasks compete for the same resources of information processing and the capacity of the specific resource is exceeded a phenomenon called 'structural interference.'"(7) This work focuses on general capacity interference because listening to music can be either a passive or active task, and it can require more or less attention depending on the amount of attention we allocate to listening. Due to the limited amount of attention one can allocate at a time, elements of background media may draw attention away from tasks, thus exceeding one's general attention capacity.

Similar to the current study, Chou analyzed the level of distraction in different types of music on reading comprehension, using Kahneman's model of attention as the theoretical framework.(8) Chou notes that reading comprehension performance is drastically reduced in groups experiencing hip-hop music compared to light classical music or no music at all.(9) Limited capacity theory holds that capacity interference occurs when two simultaneous tasks compete for a person's general capacity of attention, hence Chou explains his results in terms of the "attention drainage effect," which could be a new type of interference falling under the limited capacity theory.(10) Chou came to these conclusions because participants were told to ignore the background music during the reading comprehension task, and hence claims that the distraction effect occurs not because participants were listening to the music, but because the attention was unconsciously "drained" from the participants.(11)

This rather significant impact music seems to have on attention is quite worthy of research considering the potential consequences on task completion. Task switching and concurrent task completion are commonplace in many work environments of the twenty-first century. Due to the immense pressure to complete as many tasks in the shortest amount of time possible, it is intriguing to further understand the effects music has on these aspects of task completion. Task switching involves focusing attention on the task at hand, and switching attention to another task. Studies concerning this type of multitasking have found that the greatest increase in reaction time to a second stimulus occurs when it is presented (very) quickly after the first stimulus.(12) These deficits brought on by task switching in simple multitasking experiments were found to be the most significant at response-stimulus intervals of less than 0.6s.(13) As previously mentioned, simultaneous task completion can only happen as far as one's attention capacity will allow. Unfortunately, most of the research performed on attention and task switching has been focused on the cognitive mechanisms underlying the process of multitasking, and has yet to have much of a focus on the occupational consequences.(14)

The current research aims to blend these two approaches and tests the following hypotheses: 1) Simple task switching will yield longer reaction times than repeat task completion and single task completion at intervals less than 0.6s. 2) The group experiencing 'popular' music will yield the highest reaction times...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT