Wednesday, December 26, 2018

More nons(ci)ence on music listening?

It happens more and more: a commercial company pays a researcher (or research group) to produce a research report, the results turn out to be (directly or indirectly) in favor of the company’s mission, and they decide to announce the results in a press release, without having the results go through the usual peer-review. And even worse, sometimes the report is not disclosed at all (see earlier blog).

Last September Spotify succeeded in getting the outcome of such a research project loud and clear in the media. Conclusion: Listening to music while you study makes you smarter (see, e.g., The Daily Mail or USA Today).

Well, there have been done a few, yet well-controlled experiments in the past on this topic. All with the conclusion that music listening can lead to enhanced performance on a variety of cognitive tests, but also that such effects are short-term and stem from the impact of music on arousal level and mood, which, in turn, affect cognitive performance (hence an indirect effect). However, this is not special to music: experiences other than music listening have similar effects (see earlier blogs).
NRC Next | 03 Oct 2013

Interestingly, the results announced in the media seem to contradict those findings. The principal researcher, Emma Gray, even goes so far as to give advise based on her findings: ‘The left side of the brain is used to process factual information and solve problems, which are key skills in these topics,’ and continues: ‘Listening to music with 50-80 beats per minute such as We Can’t Stop by Miley Cyrus and Mirrors by Justin Timberlake has a calming effect on the mind that is conducive to logical thought, allowing the brain to learn and remember new facts.’ Spotify's vice president of global communications enthusiastically adds: 'With millions of students streaming music on Spotify, it’s great to see the positive effect it could have on their studies.' Wonderful. That would indeed be great.

Unfortunately, the research report cannot be traced. Two journalists, wanting me to comment on it, could not get hold of the researcher nor the report. Peculiar if you bring out a press release, not? In the end, the journalists copied the results without being able to check the source. This is not only bad for science but also bad for journalism.

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