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Setting things straight: Music and performance

Setting things straight: The research that investigates the effects of music on our performance
Let’s put the Mozart effect and intelligence aside and think about something else for a second. If you take a walk down the street or in a park, step inside a public library, or into a subway, or in a shop, you will find music and there is music everywhere. If you can’t hear it, there is at least people listening to it with their headphones on, when reading a book or even studying. We have people that listen to music while they do sport. We also incidentally listen to music on many occasions when we go shopping or sit in a waiting room, music is played at the spa or salon you frequent at the dentist lobby and even in the elevator.
But does all this music have any effect on our behavior? Well, the first thing you should know is that there is a lot of research on music listening; the second thing you should know is that music, except for some very general effect has no unique effect, and that much of this effect depends on the specific interaction between the music and the listener. Let’s take a look at a few studies. Keep in mind that there is a major difference between the studies that are presented here and the studies on the Mozart effect. In the studies that investigate the Mozart effect, the participants first listen to the music.
Then as soon as the music is over, they are asked to do a task. The studies that are presented here, in contrast show a more common situation, the effect of music listening while we are engaging in some behavior. For example, studying a situation that is ubiquitous in our everyday life. Let’s start with background music. Background music is present in our everyday life in many places. But does this drive our behavior so that we might act differently? In a study by North and colleagues, the authors play either German or French background music in a wine shop, that was selling both German and French wines.
Apparently, although customers were buying more French wind than German wine, the type of background music could modulate this tendency and the customers were buying even more French wine with the background music was French and slightly more German wine. If the background music was German. Another everyday situation where music is popular, is sport. Music is usually played in gyms and athletes, whether they are professional or amateurs, often listen to music when they’re engaging in sports, while they are jogging in the park, running on a treadmill or even lifting weights. So again, does music help? There are several potential uses of music. Music can be used to decrease the anxiety that sports performance may induce. Noticeably, the music doesn’t necessarily
have to be relaxing to reduce anxiety: many people listen to music while jogging and they do so to keep the pace, they synchronize their pace with the music. As far as performance is concerned, the results do not seem so clear. The benefits of music, if these effects exist, are not so large. The contexts with perhaps the largest number of studies is that which investigates the effect of music listening on cognitive performance, in particular, on reading comprehension, a condition we can observe daily in the behavior of students. So does music helps students maintain focus on their reading material? Or in contrast, does it disturb or disrupt reading comprehension?
Another surprising results of the meta-analysis was the large variability in the studies outcomes. Although the mean outcome is a light detrimental effect of music, perhaps individual differences might play a role on the music’s final effect. For some, music might be detrimental, but for others, it might be not. Once again, current research reveals that there is still so much to know about the effect of music on cognition and that more research is needed to draw any final conclusion, whether such a final conclusion exist.

Can music make you perform better?

In this video, we’ll dig more into how music in general affects us. Let’s go through the research that investigates the effects of music on performance.


  • Cole, Z., & Maeda, H. (2015). Effects of listening to preferential music on sex differences in endurance running performance. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 121(2), 390-398.
  • Edworthy, J., & Waring, H. (2006). The effects of music tempo and loudness level on treadmill exercise. Ergonomics, 49(15), 1597-1610.
  • Elliott, D., Polman, R., & Taylor, J. (2014). The effects of relaxing music for anxiety control on competitive sport anxiety. European Journal of Sport Science, 14(sup1), S296-S301.
  • Kitahara, T., Hokari, S., & Nagayasu, T. (2014, June). Music synchronizer with runner’s pace for supporting steady pace jogging. In International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (pp. 343-348). Springer, Cham.
  • North, A. C., Hargreaves, D. J., & McKendrick, J. (1999). The influence of in-store music on wine selections. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84(2), 271.
  • Vasilev, M. R., Kirkby, J. A., & Angele, B. (2018). Auditory distraction during reading: A Bayesian meta-analysis of a continuing controversy. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(5), 567-597.
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Music and Intelligence: Can Music Make You Smarter?

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