Listening to happy music may help generate more innovative solutions compared to silence, according to a new study.

Creativity is important in our complex, fast-changing world, as it allows us to generate innovative solutions for a wide range of problems and come up with fresh ideas. The question of what facilitates creative cognition has long been studied, and while music has previously been shown to benefit cognition, little is known about how listening to music affects creative cognition.

That led researchers Drs. Simone Ritter from Radboud University in The Netherlands and Sam Ferguson from the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, to investigate the effect of music on creative cognition.

The researchers had 155 participants complete questionnaires, then split them into groups.

Each group listened to one of four different types of music that were categorized as calm, happy, sad, or anxious, depending on their emotional valence (positive, negative) and arousal (high, low). A control group worked in silence.

After the music started playing, participants performed various cognitive tasks that tested their divergent and convergent creative thinking.

Participants who came up with the most original and useful solutions to a task scored higher in divergent creativity, while participants who came up with the single best possible solution to a task scored higher in convergent creativity.

The researchers found that listening to happy music, which they define as classical music that is positive valence and high in arousal, facilitates more divergent creative thinking compared to silence.

The researchers suggest that the variables involved in happy music may enhance flexibility in thinking, so that additional solutions might be considered by the participant that may not have occurred to them as readily if they were performing the task in silence.

Further research could explore how different ambient sounds might affect creativity and include participants of diverse cultures, age groups, and levels of music experience, the researchers noted.

They also say that their findings demonstrate that listening to music could promote creative thinking in inexpensive and efficient ways in various scientific, educational, and organizational settings.

The study was published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Source: PLOSĀ 

Photo: Overall divergent thinking (ODT) score. Credit: Ritter et al (2017).