For men working on tasks requiring high levels of concentration, listening to rock music — as opposed to classical music or the sounds of an operating room — appears to hinder concentration and may lead to more mistakes, according to a new study by researchers at Imperial College London and the Royal College of Music. Music and/or noise was found to have no effect on women’s performance, though they generally performed better than men at the game involved in the study.
According to the researchers, music is reportedly played up to 72 percent of the time in operating rooms during surgery. However, experts are divided on whether it has a beneficial effect. Some research, for example, has suggested that Jamaican music and Hip-Hop increases operating speed and surgical instrument manipulation. However, in another study, one in four anesthetists — who are responsible for keeping patients sedated — said music reduced their vigilance.
For the new study, the researchers asked 352 volunteers at the Imperial Festival — an annual celebration of the science that takes place at Imperial College — to play the classic childhood game Operation. This game involves removing various objects from a pretend patient — Cavity Sam — whose nose flashes and buzzes if your tweezers touch the metal sides of the body.
As they concentrated on the task, participants wore headphones that played one of three tracks — Andante from Sonata for Two Pianos by Mozart, Thunderstruck by AC/DC, or the sound of an operating room.
The researchers kept track of the participants’ mistakes and timed how long it took them to remove three body parts.
Overall, men who listened to AC/DC were slower and made more mistakes, compared to men who listened to Mozart or the sound of an operating room. In fact, the song Thunderstruck was tied to around 36 mistakes on average, compared to 28 mistakes while listening to the Sonata and operating room noises. It took volunteers around one minute to complete the task.
Generally, women took longer to remove the body parts but made fewer mistakes. Significantly, women did not appear to be distracted at all by the rock music, and none of the three tracks made any difference to performance or speed.
While it is unclear why rock music affected men more than women, the researchers suggest that perhaps men are more susceptible to auditory stress — a state triggered by loud or discordant music.
The scientists also asked people about their musical tastes, and found that Mozart only reduced the number of mistakes people made if they reported high levels of appreciation for the Sonata they listened to.
The researchers, from the Centre for Performance Science, a collaboration between Imperial and the Royal College of Music, say the study is part of wider research into how music affects performance.
“Although this study is clearly tongue-in-cheek, and was all performed in our spare time, it is part of our wider research into the effect of music on performance — particularly in a medical setting such as an operating theatre [room],” said Dr. Daisy Fancourt, lead author of the research from the Centre for Performance Science.
Their findings are published in the Medical Journal of Australia, where it won a top prize for quirky — yet scientifically rigorous — research.
The team also investigates how music can affect performance in other fields.
“One of our areas of research is how we can boost performance in many different settings — from rowing in the Olympics, to a musical performance or delivering an important speech. This study suggests that for men who are operating or playing a board game, rock music may be a bad idea,” said Fancourt, who is also a research fellow at the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial.
Source: Imperial College London