What Should You Listen to When You Want to Focus?

How does your brain respond to a noisy, musical, or silent environment? What’s the best soundtrack to study, focus, and be productive?

Looking for the perfect study soundtrack? Is it white noise? Mozart? Evanescence? Is the jackhammer from the construction outside enough? Well, it’s complicated. Noise, music, and silence all have effects on our physiology and cognition.

The World Health Organization has studied the effects of noise pollution on the body — and the outlook isn’t promising. Constant exposure to loud noises has been found to increase blood pressure and risk of heart attack. Noise from train stations and airports in particular has been proven to negatively impact the academic performance of students, leading some cities to require soundproofing in schools. Silence, on the other hand, has been correlated with lower stress hormones, and mice who were exposed to silence demonstrated more neurogenesis in the hippocampus than their white-noise and Mozart-exposed brethren. Other studies have confirmed that brains tend to process and evaluate new information faster during silence than while exposed to sound.

Not only does music affect your learning and memory formation process, but listening to a song involves many parts of your brain also involved in emotional response and language decoding. Physiologically, your cardiovascular and respiratory systems naturally sync to the tempo of whatever music you’re listening to, meaning a slow, relaxed song can put you in a meditative state, while an upbeat rhythm can excite you.

Long story short — do you. If you have to listen to Randy Newman to get that report in, more power to you. If your goal is complete zen focus, grab those earplugs. Whatever you do, stay away from jackhammers and train stations.