Beyoncé and the Brain: Can music boost productivity?

by Alyssa Harrison


In our society today, there is a huge emphasis on productivity. By doing a quick search on YouTube or Google, you can find dozens of productivity related vlogs, books, and TED Talks. There have been countless methods and techniques developed to boost productivity as well. Not only does productivity seem to be necessary in almost every career, but the emphasis on productivity starts as early as primary school, continues throughout high school, and is incredibly important for university.


Image by Green Chameleon on Unsplash.

While I have used a variety of these techniques to try and find my own method of productivity, such as the Pomodoro Technique, nothing works quite as well as music for me. I do not know if you can call it a technique, but I definitely cannot endure a study session without having some calming Lofi on in the background. This got me thinking – does music really help increase my productivity, or have I merely convinced myself that it makes me productive because I have become so accustomed to having it on in the background?


The relationship between music and productivity is an interesting one. Perhaps the earliest example of this is that of the Mozart Effect, although this example is geared more towards whether Mozart’s music can boost intelligence. In 1993, a small study was conducted in which students had to listen to ten minutes of a Mozart piano Sonata, after which they had to complete a spatial reasoning test. Compared to listening to silence or a monotonous reading, it showed that those who listened to Mozart yielded better results.


However, Francis Rauscher, the psychologist who conducted the experiment, noted that the study was based on only one kind of intelligence (spatial reasoning), and that the effect of Mozart’s music was not long-lasting. Much to her amazement, her findings exploded in America, and newspapers immediately latched onto the idea that “Mozart makes you smart”. Rauscher emphasised that this is a false notion. It does not matter what type of music you listen to – what matters is whether you enjoy it or not. As she puts it, “if you hate Mozart, you’re not going to find a Mozart Effect. If you love Pearl Jam, you’re going to find a Pearl Jam effect.”

In 1993, a study was conducted to analyse whether listening to Mozart’s music increased spatial reasoning intelligence. Image sourced from thegilmore.org.

So how does this work?


When you listen to music that you enjoy, dopamine (a neurotransmitter) is released in the “pleasure centre” (or the nuclear accumbens centre) of the brain. Dopamine can cause alertness, focus, motivation and happiness, and generally helps to improve your overall mood. This pleasure centre activates a cycle of reward, pleasure, and motivation – in other words, dopamine motivates you to repeat the behaviour which caused its release in the first place. Therefore, while the release of dopamine might not be the causal factor for productivity, it certainly can put you in the right mindset to be productive.

While it is important to listen to music that you enjoy while you work, it is just as important to choose the right music for the right task, because it can become as distracting as it is motivating. For example, I would not recommend listening to the Broadway musical, Hamilton, while writing an academic essay. There is always a chance that you might start writing about the American revolution of 1776 without realizing it.


It differs from person to person, but Sam Kemmis suggests that you should listen to upbeat songs while doing menial work, or work that does not require much effort, such as administrative tasks. If you are doing creative work, don’t listen to lyric-heavy songs – and rather try listening to music with a slow tempo. I generally find that while I do creative work, such as writing stories, I can’t listen to any music at all. Kemmis also suggests that if you’re getting easily distracted, ambient music is a good option as well.

As a personal recommendation, I would suggest listening to Lofi while completing more complex tasks, as I find this music quite repetitive, and do not get easily distracted listening to it (You might have heard of the YouTube channel Lofi Girl – if not, I would really recommend checking it out). While you do not have to listen to the music throughout the whole task, it might just help to get you in the zone. (Again, it is important to note that it differs for everyone and you must find what works for you).


Lofi Girl is a lofi hip-hop radio channel on YouTube. Image sourced from musically.com.

Even if you get extremely distracted listening to music in general, and prefer to work in silence, it wouldn’t hurt to blast some upbeat Beyoncé hits in the morning to get you hyped up for the rest of the day.



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