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For introverts, agitating music was associated with faster response times than the silent condition. This group difference may be explained on the basis of the notion that introverts have a generally higher arousal level compared to extroverts and would therefore benefit less from the background auditory stimuli.
The aim of this study was to investigate the influence of background music on the ability of non-musician subjects to perform arithmetic operations. For this purpose, the effect of different types of music, environmental noise and silence on the performance of each subject was compared. Studies that have focused on this matter have taken into account numerous cognitive processes to the extent that the available literature in this area is very heterogeneous and, therefore, difficult to compare.
Additionally, the study of this matter has produced contradictory results see [ 1 ] for a review. It seems that listening to music has a positive effect on motivational processes and emotional reactions but has a negative effect on cognitive processing especially memory and language. Beh and Hirst [ 4 ] showed that high intensity music decreased performance during high-demand conditions in driving tasks. The positive effect of listening to music on mood has precise neurobiological bases.
For example, the fMRI study by Menon and Levitin [ 5 ] showed that listening to music modulates the activity of structures involved in the dopaminergic reward system, such as the nucleus accumbens NAc and the ventral tegmental area VTA , which also belong to the circuits of pleasure see also [ 6 ]. Indeed, the so-called arousal-mood hypothesis posits that listening to music positively affects task performance by influencing arousal alertness state and mood [ 7 ]. However, it can be speculated that this phenomenon refers to a more general boosting property of music, which has been supported by empirical investigations on the effect of listening to background music on performance during various cognitive tasks.
For example, evidence of improvements in verbal memory encoding [ 13 ], autobiographical memory in Alzheimer patients [ 14 ], declarative memory [ 15 ], verbal and visual processing speed [ 16 ], arithmetic skills [ 17 ], reading [ 18 ], and learning second languages [ 19 ] has been accumulated. According to other authors [ 20 ], there would be no compelling evidence of a special link between listening to Mozart or to any Classical music and visuospatial or spatial-temporal abilities. On the other hand, it is true that background auditory stimuli may negatively interfere with concurrent tasks.
For example, Proverbio et al. In that study, however, listening to emotionally touching music improved memory for faces and significantly increased heart rate, which was interpreted differently in the view of a multimodal affective and audiovisual encoding. Overall, there is solid evidence of a reduction in performance when background music is present [ 23 ]. Indeed it has been shown how an intense auditory stimulation might overload perceptual system having distracting effects [ 28 ]. Even moderate noise can interfere with cognitive processes and learning [ 29 ]. In particular, it has been showed that hippocampal neurons can be damaged by moderate intensity noise exposure, thus resulting in impaired learning and memory abilities [ 30 ].
Compared to silence, listening to background music has also been reported to interfere with many other cognitive processes, including arithmetic [ 31 ], verbal and numerical tasks [ 32 , 33 ], text reading [ 34 , 23 ], multimedia learning [ 35 ], procedural memory [ 36 ] and response inhibition in the Stroop task [ 37 ]. Considering these findings, it is possible to hypothesize that particularly agitating or complex music might compete for cognitive resources, thus reducing arithmetical performance as was found in the present study.
Other studies on the effect of music on numerical cognition, however, seem to suggest a boosting effect rather than a detrimental effect. For example, Wolf and Weiner [ 38 ] analysed the proportion of correct answers in simple arithmetic problems presented in four different conditions of hearing stimulation: silence, speech, music and industrial noise. The results showed that in the background music condition, the proportion of correct responses was significantly greater than in the condition with industrial noise.
Additionally, Hallam and colleagues [ 39 ] found that listening to music increased response speed but not accuracy during the solving of arithmetic problems that were administered to children aged 10 to 12 years. The authors explained these results using the view of the arousal hypothesis, arguing that music perceived as relaxing had a positive influence on the number of mathematical problems completed and the pro-social behaviour of the children. In this study, participants were assigned to one of two groups based on their extroversion-introversion traits to test previous hypotheses about inter-individual differences in the responsivity to external noise during attentional focus.
Indeed, Eysenck [ 40 ], in his personality model, proposed differentiating individuals based on the amount of external stimulation required to reach an optimum level of arousal, linking it to the extraversion personality dimension. According to this theory, the introverted subjects would have an intrinsically high basal arousal level and would thus tend to implement different ways of avoiding stimuli, even those of reduced intensity, to prevent activation from exceeding the perceived optimal level.
This model has been supported by electrodermal and electrocortical recording evidence showing that introverts exhibit greater reactivity to sensory stimulation than extraverts e. In this regard, Mistry [ 42 ] explored the effect of background music amongst extroverts and introverts on test performance via two short comprehension and problem-solving tests and found that extroverts performed significantly better during the completion of the test in the presence of music but performed poorer in silence, while introverts performed better in silent conditions than in the presence of music. Conversely, Cassidy and MacDonald [ 8 ] investigated the effects of music and everyday noise on the performance of introverts and extroverts engaged in the completion of the following five cognitive tasks: immediate recall, free recall, numerical and delayed recall, and the Stroop task.
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The results showed that performance was lessened across all cognitive tasks in the presence of background sound music or noise compared to silence. Performance was modulated by internal arousal, with introverts performing better overall on each task except the Stroop task and appearing to be more detrimentally affected by the presence of music and noise. Here, it was hypothesized that task performance would be modulated by introvert and extrovert tendencies.
More generally, we predicted that both groups would be affected by task difficulty and that agitating music was possibly more detrimental than softer music and sounds.
Furthermore, it was hypothesized that music boosting effects would be more evident when participants were engaged in solving difficult arithmetical operations. In this study, only non-musician participants were recruited to avoid the possibility of musicians paying more attention than non-musicians to the musical background and because it has been suggested in the literature that a relationship exists between musicality and numerical ability e.
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Fifty psychology university students 25 women and 25 men , with a mean age of The participants were given academic credits in exchange for their participation. All participants had normal or corrected-to-normal vision and normal hearing.
All of the participants were right-handed as determined by administration of the Edinburgh laterality questionnaire [ 46 ]. Their mean score was 0. Fourteen of the participants had a left eye dominance, whereas 26 had a right ocular dominance as determined by administration of 2 practical ocular dominance tests the tube test and the binocular line alignment test.
The lack of any present or past neurologic or psychic disorder including epilepsy, acalculia, learning disability disorders, autistic spectrum disorders, and head trauma was assessed through a self-paced questionnaire. Participants were also administered the Eysenck Extroversion-Introversion scale Eysenck Personality Inventory ;[ 47 ] on the basis of which they were divided in two subgroups: those who scored from 1 to 12 were included in the introverts group 25 Ss , while those who scored from 12 to 21 were included in the extroverts group 25 Ss.
The psychological profile of the participants was normo-typical, and they only differed in the introversion-extroversion dimension, as can be seen in Table 1. Volunteers were required to refrain from any drug, or heavy alcohol and caffeine consumption within the 24 hours prior to participation. The experiment was conducted with approval from the Ethical Committee of the University of Milano-Bicocca and in compliance with the APA ethical standards for the treatment of human volunteers , American Psychological Association.
Informed written consent was obtained from all subjects.
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All experiments were performed in accordance with the relevant guidelines and regulations. Stimuli consisted of a given auditory background provided through stereo headphones to be ignored and arithmetical calculations to be solved as fast as possible upon presentation via a PC screen. The stimuli were the same as those used in a previous psychophysiological investigation [ 22 ].
Musical pieces were selected according to the procedure described in Proverbio et al. A group of 20 professional conductors, composers and professors of various Italian conservatories were asked to indicate some representative pieces that best expressed a given emotion. The emotion of a piece was defined as follows: agitating if it induced anxiety, distress, fear, agitation, and tension; happy if it induced a good mood, wellness, joy, and happiness; and touching if it induced pathos, grief, melancholy, pain, sadness, nostalgia, and sympathy.
Tonal music was defined as any musical production that had a tonal centre around which the melody and harmony were based, including the monodic productions of the Middle Ages. A total of suggestions were received: tonal pieces and 60 atonal pieces. The judges were then required to evaluate the corpus on the basis of the 3 emotional categories. The pieces judged as more coherent were then matched for a composition and size of the instrumental ensemble, b tempo and rhythmic structure, and c stylistic distinctiveness presence of human voices. Pieces that were not comparable along these dimensions were discarded, and in the end, the selected pieces were as follows:.
The modulation of tonality used to provide variety and its possible effect on calculation ability were the factors considered in the present study. The visual stimuli consisted of a set of arithmetic operations division, multiplication, subtraction and addition that were presented randomly on a PC monitor, and each operation was followed by a hypothetical result, which was correct right in half of the cases and was incorrect wrong in the other cases. The operations followed these criteria:. The operations were validated as easy or difficult by 12 graduated judges 5 women and 7 men, aged 26 to 54 years.
The judges were asked to evaluate, by means of a Likert 3 point scale, how difficult they found the calculus resolution. The judges were instructed to give a 1 to all arithmetic operations whose result immediately appeared right or wrong, a 2 to all operations for which they had some doubt or uncertainty, and a 3 to all operations that appeared unsolvable. While stimuli rated 3 were eliminated, stimuli rated 1 were considered easy, and stimuli rated 2 were considered difficult.
On the basis of this procedure, the level of difficulty was accurately balanced across the correct and incorrect categories. Operations were typed in yellow on a bluish grey background and were presented in the centre of the fixation point area. Their maximum eccentricity from the fixation point was 2. The participants comfortably sat in front of a computer screen placed cm from their eyes in an experimental cubicle, which was acoustically and electrically shielded. The subjects were instructed to gaze at the centre of the screen where a small yellow circle served as a fixation point during the stimulus presentation and avoid any eye or body movement during the experimental session.
The subjects wore a pair of headphones Sennheiser HD for listening to the background auditory stimuli and were instructed to attentively look at the mathematical operation. The response hand left or right was alternated across trials and announced at the beginning of each trial.
The sequence order and presentation as well as the response hand order were randomized across subjects. Mathematical operations were presented for ms and were followed by an inter-stimulus interval ISI randomly ranging from to ms. The results of the operations were presented for ms and were followed by an inter-trial interval ITI of ms. The experimental session was also preceded by two experimental sequences in which participants practised the response press with both hands and were familiarized with the task procedure.
The background auditory stimuli for the training sessions consisted of 2 minutes of nature sounds and Jazz music.
Environmental noise consisted of the sound of ocean waves downloaded from YouTube , Google Inc. The experimental sessions consisted of minute runs during which participants had to solve 12 arithmetical operations and immediately decide if the proposed result was right or wrong. Every run included 3 easy correct operations, 3 easy incorrect operations, 3 difficult correct operations and 3 difficult incorrect operations, and the operations were randomly mixed. Of the 15 sequences, 3 were associated with a background of agitating music; 3, with a background of joyful music; 3, with a background of rain sounds; and 3, with silent conditions.
Conditions were randomly mixed and mixed across the participants. Experimental sequences were created via the Eevoke system ASA System , which controlled stimulus presentation and response recording. Response times RTs and the percentage of correct responses hits were recorded and quantified. Both RTs and accuracy percentages were subjected to separate multifactorial repeated-measures ANOVAs with 2 between-subjects factor and 3 within-subjects factors, whose factors of variability were as follows:. Partial eta squared values were systematically provided to estimate effect sizes. Homoscedasticity was not assumed and p-values were corrected using Greenhouse-Geisser correction.
Overall, the two groups did not differ in their percentage of correct responses Extroverts: Musical style tonal vs. Response times relative to the correct recognition of right and wrong arithmetic results as a function of operation difficulty right. For example, hits were lower when deciding correct results in response to the agitating music Means and standard deviations can be seen in Fig 1 right.
Post hoc comparisons showed that background auditory stimuli had no effect on RTs in the easy condition. Specifically, post hoc comparisons showed no effect of background auditory stimuli whatsoever on the recognition of correct or incorrect arithmetical results in the easy condition see Fig 6. The purpose of this study was to investigate how the presence of musical or environmental background stimuli could influence cognitive processing and, more specifically, arithmetic calculations.
First, stimulus classification based on the preliminary assessment of the arithmetical stimuli was found to be highly proper: higher accuracy and faster responsiveness were observed for operations classified as easy vs. Operations also differed on the basis of their correctness but in opposite ways according to the type of variable measured: participants were more accurate in responding to incorrect operations, but they judged the correct results more quickly.
The effect of background on the arithmetical performance was very significant: hits were higher during listening to touching music or rain sounds than during the silent condition.