Does music encourage creativity?
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encourage creativity

Does music encourage creativity?

Among many classifications, people could be divided into those who listen to background music while working and those who do not. For those who do, music helps them focus and generate more ideas. For those who do not, it is a source of distraction that does not allow them to work properly and get inspired. On the other hand, there is a debate about whether music encourages creativity.

This belief is quite popular. Long ago, music has been linked to brain development thanks to its structure and influence in the mood. So much so, that what is called the Mozart effect has been defined, by which it is thought that listening to music by the composer that gives its name improves intellectual capacities.

With all this, on the one hand, it would be possible to consider whether music affects creativity when doing a task simultaneously. Or, on the other hand, if music fosters long-term creativity. But, if this is so, does any kind of music work? Under what conditions would it really be useful? Does it depend on the task to be done?

What is meant by creativity?

Creativity is defined as the ability to generate ideas, thoughts, or solutions that are original and useful. According to the expected response, creativity groups divergent and convergent thinking.

The first, what is colloquially known as creativity, consists of producing, based on specific information or resources, multiple responses made by unexpected combinations. Or, transforming the resource (ideas, materials …) into something different.

Convergent thinking, on the other hand, is the ability to use logic and mental acuity to solve a problem, using search, recognition, and decision making. For many, this kind of thinking would not be creative. However, it is, since it requires relating a priori non-associated concepts, combining information, and establishing an effective strategy to give a result.

Both types of thinking are totally necessary when faced with a task and like any other cognitive ability. Not everyone has the same levels, although they can be encouraged. Generally, this development is acquired by training in tasks that require starting this process.

However, specialists from various disciplines are looking for ways to improve our capabilities in a more passive way with elements of our environment. Is music one of them?

How does music influence cognition?

Interest in the relationship between music and cognition arose from the study that spoke about the Mozart effect.  It was even indicated that it also occurred when unborn babies were put to music.

However, the number of studies that have investigated the direct effect of music on cognitive abilities is quite small. In fact, most of them end up suggesting that the enhancing effect that may exist is due to the level of attention and the mood that the music generates.

Thus, a more positive mood has been associated with improvements in divergent thinking, but not in convergent thinking. This could be because mood facilitates cognitive flexibility, a fundamental ability to generate different ideas. While for convergent thinking the capacity for logical reasoning and decision making would influence more.

Does music encourage creativity?

A study conducted by Radboud University (The Netherlands) in 2017 found that music encourages creativity, though not just any kind.

To reach this conclusion, they made 5 groups: 4 carried out a creativity task with different musical styles and one in silence. Thus, they saw that when performing tasks that required convergent thinking, the best result was obtained in silence. In contrast, the group that listened to upbeat music performed the best in divergent thinking, specifically, with music by Vivaldi and Caille Saint-Saens.

However, a more recent study, carried out in 2019 at the University of Central Lancashire (England) casts doubt on what was stated by the previous ones. In this case, 3 experimental conditions were made. For the first, a task was carried out that evaluated creativity by listening to unknown and foreign music. In the second, instrumental music. And finally, family music in your own language.

In this research, they found that those who had background music, of any kind, did worse, regardless of whether or not they were used to working or studying with music. Likewise, the result was independent of the mood that each type of music-induced. The authors explained that this detrimental effect could be due to the interference of auditory stimuli in attention.

So what?

Given the scarcity of consistent results in this regard, it cannot be said that music encourages creativity. Nor can it be said that it is an obstacle for it. The only thing that seems to have more support is that the state of mind that we have will facilitate some cognitive processes compared to others.

Thus, while the conclusions are not clear, we must believe in what works for each of us. Like everything, having music in the background and whether it affects our work will largely depend on other variables. If having instrumental music in the background relaxes you, your efficiency. And creativity will most likely improve, as it will allow your brain to function more efficiently.

Ultimately, until we find ways to “magically” enhance our creative ability, the best solution will be to actively train it. Doing exercises that will require attention and time, but from which we will also obtain consistent results.

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