The recent upsurge in the sales of vinyl hasn’t impressed everyone. Although said to be richer and more lifelike than digitally produced music, an American technology boss claims that that’s what’s getting in the way of productivity.
Focus@Will has developed a form of streamlined music which they claim is based on neuroscientific principles and is scientifically optimised to help you focus.
They say it helps people to concentrate and think more creatively at work. They have cut out distracting frequencies and structured the songs so that they blend into each other without any jarring interludes.
The company has produced a study that claims that the music significantly sharpens listeners focus and persistence and gives mood a boost.
Researchers have argued for decades about whether or not music helps workers to be more effective. Certainly during the last war the BBC presented Workers Playtime as part of the war effort to boost morale and productivity and it seemed to work as it was kept on until the mid-sixties.
Trying to prove that a particular genre of music or even an individual tune improves performance has been more difficult. Some results show that certain music e.g. a slowed down Mozart sonata, can improve spatial ability whilst a speeded-up version of it interfere with reading. According to the company’s science director, Julia Mossbridge, it depends on the characteristics of the music.
She recruited over 900 subscribers and tested them to see if they responded best to silence, ordinary music, or streamlined music. The listeners were examined using psychological games on their perseverance, visual attention, verbal memory, and logical and creative thinking.
The streamlined music seemed to have a strong impact on creative thinking with smaller effects on persistence, concentration, and mood.
“Music helps boost mood and arousal but if the listener devotes attention to it any gain in cognition induced by increased mood and arousal is lost” according to a paper she published on arXiv.
Unfortunately everyone tested had already signed up to the streaming service so they might not have been representative of the population at large and that might have influenced the results. Also there was a massive dropout rate with only 50 people sticking it out to the end.
Having listened to samples of the music, or in some case sounds, I don’t blame them. Not very inspiring and lacking soul, You can hear them for yourselves here if you scroll down to the better of their web page.
And it’s not the first time music has been used to try and improve productivity. The Musak company (probably best know for its elevator music) began customizing the pace and style of the music provided throughout the workday in an effort to maintain productivity (a technique it called “Stimulus Progression“).
This music was programmed in 15-minute blocks, gradually getting faster in tempo and louder and brassier in instrumentation, to encourage workers to speed up their pace. Following the completion of a 15-minute segment, the music would fall silent for 15 minutes. If you can stand it listen here.
This was partly done for technical reasons, but company-funded research also showed that alternating music with silence limited listener fatigue, and made the “stimulus” effect of Stimulus Progression more effective. There was however a backlash as workers objected to being “brainwashed“.
Its popularity declined in the 1960s to be partly replaced by foreground music, much beloved by restaurants, fashion stores, retail outlets, shopping malls, dentists’ offices, airlines, and public spaces. Now there is a backlash against that with stores such as Marks & Spencer stopping playing music in their stores.
So fashions come and go but I think music will continue to play a part in our working lives and very to influence our shopping habits – as I posted here.