How can music and reading interfere with your concentration?

You may have already met someone that can only study or do other tasks like driving if listening to music. If you are not one of those people you might have asked yourself: “is that really possible? Can we concentrate while listening to music?”. The answer for that question is yes, is it is possible to concentrate and to other tasks besides listening to music. The thing is that, for all its amazing abilities, our brain hasn’t really evolved to take in abstract information or spend a lot of time thinking only about one thing. It seems that we have two attention systems: a conscious and an unconscious one. While the conscious system enables us to directly focus our attention towards things we know we want to concentrate, such as reading a book, studying or driving a car, the unconscious system shifts attention towards anything our senses pick up that might be significant. It also operates faster, so you can stop yourself from hearing a sound and thinking what caused it before getting to it.

The problem is that, while the conscious system can focus on one thing at a time, the unconscious one can’t. That’s why you have to force your brain to be concentrated in one task, for example studying and not paying attention to the music that is playing, because the distraction doesn’t need to be simultaneously with the other action to get your attention. 

But why is music so important? According to The Guardian, music provides non-invasive noise and pleasurable feelings to effectively neutralise the unconscious attention system’s ability to distract us. It’s much like giving small children a new toy to play with while you’re trying to get some work done without them disturbing you. 

Now you might be wondering if the music style interferes with your concentration. Even though the nature of the music can cause specific responses in our brain, for example funky music makes you wanna dance, sad music makes you melancholic, there are some studies that suggest that it really doesn’t matter what kind of music you will be listening to concentrate, as long as it is a song that you like. But it can also be seen that music without lyrics is better to work with, as human speech is something our brains pay attention to.

Music not only helps you to concentrate but also has a big impact on our mood. It can get you enthusiastic to do a task, like a physical activity, and even change your bad mood to a completely good one.

What about reading? We all have heard from our teachers the importance of reading as a habit. But how important it really is and how it can affect our brains? 

Fact Number One: Reading reduces stress even more than listening to music

In 2009, the University of Sussex did a study that showed that half an hour of dedicated reading is better for your stress levels than several other more traditional methods of relaxation like music or having a cup of tea.

Fact Number Two: You can remember better the things you’ve read on paper than on a screen

There are studies that show that you can comprehend better what’s written on a paper than on a screen, like kindle. You won’t read one faster than another, but you can retain more information.

Fact Number Three: Reading fiction improves our ethical and empathetic skills

When we start reading a book we immerse in the main character. We start to see the world with their eyes, how they feel about a certain attitude and that helps us to develop empathy.

More than all of that, reading heightens brain connectivity. Reading a book can actually change your life. According to a study developed by the Emory University’s Center for Neuropolicy, when we read, the connection between the left temporal cortex of the brain — the area associated with language reception — is heightened. What’s more, that heightened activity continues for several days following reading. 

If you want to improve communication with your brain, reading can help you! When you read you can alter your brain tissues in a positive way. It can also increase your capacity of memory. According to the ongoing research at Haskins Laboratories for the Science of the Spoken and Written Word, reading, unlike watching or listening to the media, gives the brain more time to stop, think, process, and imagine the narrative in front of us. This increased mental activity helps keep your memory sharp much in the way lifting weights keeps your muscles toned. Reading and processing what is written, from the letters to the words to the sentences to the stories themselves, boosts brain activity.

What are you waiting for? Go pick up a book and train your brain! 

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Written by: Camilla Schettino