Think Listening to Music Will Boost Creativity? Not So Fast

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Music and creativity go together like Simon and Garfunkel – or Jay and Bey, depending on your generation.

Or… maybe not. Despite previous research showing that listening to tunes can jump-start your creative juices, a new study challenges that notion and suggests that, in fact, it may be just the opposite.

Researchers at the University of Central Lancashire, University of Gävle in Sweden, and Lancaster University say background music “significantly impaired” people’s ability to complete tasks that tested verbal creativity.

During three experiments, participants listened to several types of music: Some with familiar lyrics, some with unfamiliar (foreign language lyrics), and some with no lyrics (instrumental). While songs with familiar lyrics boosted the participants’ mood, they also impaired creativity, the research showed. The unfamiliar lyrics and instrumental music didn’t even have a mental perk-up.

On the contrary, when the experiment was performed with only background library noise, it did not hinder performance, the study authors said — perhaps because it is a “steady state” of noise that isn’t as disruptive.

So next time you’re looking for inspo, maybe put the earbuds down. Instead, try these tips to cultivate creative flow or consider taking up meditation, which is proven to spur your imagination.