When I was in the 5th grade, my friend and I entered our school’s science fair with an experimental project on whether the type of study music you listen to affects your ability to retain information. In our experiment, we asked a group of subjects to listen to classical music (specifically, Mozart) while attempting to memorize a series of numbers and then to listen to a pop song (“Step by Step” by New Kids on the Block, if you’re wondering) while attempting the same task. We then asked the subjects to regurgitate the series of numbers and compared their success rates when they listened to one type of music or the other. In the end, we concluded that the subjects were more successful in remembering the numbers when they listened to classical music. My friend and I were overjoyed when our project won a prize and made it to the county science fair. However, years later, I was shocked to discover that the experiment we had based our initial hypothesis on, the Mozart Effect, had been highly contested by subsequent experiments. In the years following the Mozart Effect experiment, many established scientists have refuted its claims, insisting that listening to Mozart has no statistical significance when it comes to improving one’s academic performance. So why did our 5th grade experiment demonstrate that listening to Mozart helps with memorization? Was our conclusion a result of the experimental errors ten-year-olds are prone to make? Or does our conclusion still hold some truth despite the debunking of the Mozart Effect?

Upon further research, I was relieved to find that it is possible that our findings were in fact correct. According to a research study conducted by Stanford University, students encounter more success in studying when they simultaneously listen to instrumental music than when they listen to music with lyrics. When we listen to music with lyrics, the act of listening to the words (whether consciously or not) engages the language-processing centers in our brains. We are thus more likely to be distracted if we are studying material that requires reading or writing because our brains have to multitask. Stanford found that students who listen to music with lyrics have a harder time concentrating and are less likely to retain information. Instrumental music, on the other hand, does not engage our language-processing centers, therefore making it much easier to concentrate on the studying material. You might be able to get away with listening to your favorite pop songs when doing math or other number-based work, but if you want to achieve maximum concentration, instrumental music is the way to go.

Following this line of logic, the next question is: Should you listen to music at all when you’re studying? Though the research on this question is less conclusive, surveys reveal that people prefer listening to music when they study because it helps them focus and makes the overall experience more enjoyable. Ultimately, research aside, the choice is up to you. Consider conducting an experiment on yourself and try studying with music and then without, and see which method gives you more success. The best studying regimen is always the one that works best for you, not the one that gets the most hits online.