The Emporium of Medicinal Wonderments: In an ongoing series, the curious men and women of The Atlantic bombard me with their physiological curiosities.
Max Fisher: What music should I be listening to while I work?
The xx has a new album that's streaming on NPR. It's pretty good. Does it mess you up if there are lyrics?
Not always. Thanks for the recommendation, but I mean is there a type of music that we know makes us work more efficiently or generally better? Or should I even be listening to music? I thought I'd ask because I read about how doctors listen to music in the operating room.
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Yeah, they do... but that's a very different kind of work, mentally, from writing. For an experienced surgeon in the OR it's mostly mechanical, rote.
So if you're doing something less familiar, is music distracting and counterproductive? I think about Conor's piece a while back about how working in coffee shops is good because you have just the right amount of distraction.
Yeah, so some studies have shown that music makes people more productive, but others have shown it has no effect or can be counterproductive. We do know that some level of ambient noise can increase creativity. I think that's a big part of the benefit, for people like you whose brains are accustomed to having a lot of things going at once. Are you familiar with "listening spare time"? I think about that a lot -- that as we listen to people speak, our brains have the capacity to process more than just what we're hearing. So you can either fill that space with daydreaming -- which can potentially veer you off into complete distraction -- or with some monotonous task that prevents you from daydreaming but still fills the space, leaving you more focused overall.