Thursday, November 16, 2006


What do you think about  doing serious work while listening to music in the background?

Do you think music helps or hurts?Researchers at Cornell University were intrigued enough to investigate this. There are people who vouch that without music they can not get work done. Others just find it too distracting. Majority falls somewhere in between. Majority of us can work without serious issues with soft instrumental music in the background but anything loud with a lot of variation becomes distracting.

The experiment that was done at Cornell was very simple. They divided a group of computer majors into two groups. Each group was carefully selected to make sure that one group did not have any sort of advantage over the others such a lot of high IQ, high GPA people in one group.

They asked both groups to develop a program in Fortran for a problem specified in adequate detail. One group was asked to work in a room with the background music and other was housed in a room with no music.

The observation was very interesting. There was no visible difference in the performance of two groups. The number of correct entries, number of defects, time taken etc. varied very little. However, there was one thing that stood out. The problem was something which could be solved by following a sequence of steps or if someone identified a pattern then it could be solved in smaller number of steps using that pattern. The group in the room with music solved the problem sequentially. There was none in that group which could identify quicker and more intuitive way to solve the problem. Majority of the group in the quiet room had honed in on the intelligent way of solving the problem.

When they tried to analyze this peculiar observation, they found that it was in line with how the brain operates. The left half brain is what does most of analytical activities. Right side does most of the creative activities such as music, fine arts, emotions , creativity etc. The right side of the brain of people in the room with music was occupied listening to the music and could not exercise the creativity to solve the problem creatively. The right side  of brain of people in the quiet room was able to use right side to maximum and came up with the creative solution.

This is an interesting observation. However, caution should be exercised when it comes to the matter of brain because very little about brain is understood clearly. The understanding of brain and its working increases every year.

This came from Tom Demacro's 'Peopleware' book.


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