Testing the effect of different types of music on memory.

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1. Design

1.1 Focus Question

Listening to music is a technique that many students use to relax and/or improve their concentration. However, many students ‘fall into the trap’ of listening to music while they study. But are they really traps? Does listening to music while studying create distractions which weaken memorization, or is it an effective method for memorization? This leads us to the focus question: Does the type of background music (rock, jazz, orchestral, strings and no music) played during the memorization and recollection processes have an effect on students’ ability to memorize and recall a list of words?

1.2 Hypothesis

The more dissonant the background music is, the more it weakens the student’s ability to memorize and thus, the less number of words are recalled. Therefore, no music will have the highest memory recall; followed by strings, orchestral, jazz and rock (lowest memory recall). In other words, yes, music does create distractions which weaken memorization during memorization and recollection processes.

1.3 Background Information

1.3.1 Dissonance  

In music, the term dissonance means a combination of notes that sound harsh or unpleasant to most people. Dissonance is based on beating and roughness. These conditions are caused due to sound signal’s amplitude fluctuations which describe variations in the maximum amplitude to a reference point due to wave interference. This interference theory states that two or more waves may be smaller (destructive interference) or larger (constructive interference) depending on their phase relationship. Thus for dissonance, constructive and destructive interferences cause the phenomenon of amplitude fluctuations and thus produces the harsh or unpleasant sound.

1.3.2 Previous studies on background music on memory

Numerous studies have shown numerous results on the effect of background music on memory.

In 1986, Davidson and Powell conducted an experiment to determine the effect of background music on on-task performance (OTP). The participants were 26 pupils in a fifth grade science class who were observed for 42 class sessions over 4 months. Every three minutes observational data was recorded. Time-series analyses were used on the data to determine the effect of the intervention on OTP. The results showed that a significant increase (p = 0.0001) in OTP was determined for male subjects. Although there was a similar increase in OTP for females, due to the ceiling effect the statistical results were less than males. This effect occurs when variance in an independent variable is not measured or estimated above a certain level which is often the results of limitations on data-gathering instruments.

In 2002, Hallam, Price, and Katsarou conducted an experiment to examine the influence of background music on arithmetric and memory tasks in school-age children. Their results showed that children who listened to calm music performed better than those who listened to no music. However, the children who listened to “aggressive” music performed the worst of all. They concluded that the effects of music on task performance are decided by encouragement and mood rather than directly influencing cognition. Also in 2002, a case study of 39 grade 1 students was carried out on the effect of background music on the retention of letter sounds. The results showed that studying with background classical music resulted in greater retention of letter sounds and names than studying without it. Specific studies were conducted on the Mozart Effect which states that music should enhance spatiotemporal reasoning. One year later in 2003, Ivanov and Geake demonstrated some evidence for improved spatiotemporal reasoning when school age children in a classroom setting were given paper folding tasks.

Another study showing the benefits of background music was a Dutch study in 2006 by deGroot. His study showed that 36 individuals improved learning of foreign languages with background music. In 1969, Wolff performed a study on 126 American sophomore high school students on the effects of background music on learning vocabulary and grammar. The results showed that the students improved with background music. Even elementary students from three Chicago suburbs displayed improvement in spelling word retention with background music in 2002(Anderson, Henke, McLaughlin, Ripp and Tuffs).

1.3.3 Selected music for this experiment

This experiment requires a rock, jazz, orchestral and strings piece of music. In addition, none of the songs include words or lyrics as some of the words may trigger the participant to remember a word from the word list. Also, each song is only played for one minute. The chorus of each song must be played within this one minute. Orchestral song: two steps from Hell – Heart of Courage, Strings song: Vivaldi – Spring, Rock song: ACDC – Back in Black, Jazz song: Pink panther theme song.

1.4 Investigation Variables

1.4.1 TABLE 1: Practical Investigations Variables

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1.4.2 TABLE 2: Controlled and Uncontrolled Variables

1.5 Control Used for Comparison

This experiment investigates the effect of different type of background music (rock, jazz, orchestral, strings and no music) on a students’ ability to memorize and recall a list of words? The independent variable is the type of music based on dissonance. Therefore, the control experiment would be where participants do not listen to music.  

1.6 Apparatus and Materials

1.6.1 TABLE 3: Apparatus and Materials

1.7 Protocol and Protocol Diagram

1.8 Procedure

  1. Informed consent was to be collected from each participant at ...

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