Effects of Musical and Spoken Information on Sustaining Adults’ Attention in the Presence of Auditory Distractions
Noriko Nakamura, MT-BC
There were two objectives in this study. The primary purpose was to examine the effects of musical and spoken information on sustaining adults’ attention in the presence of auditory distractions. The secondary purpose was to analyze the correlation between attention performance during conditions of distractions and the degree of self-rated distractions. The participants (N=31) were randomly assigned to two groups. The first group listened to sung information with a guitar accompaniment in the presence of auditory distractions. The second group listened to the same information, which was spoken, during conditions of distractions. After each participant listened to either the sung or spoken recording, he or she filled out a questionnaire concerning the content of the sung/spoken information and self-rated the degree of distractions during each auditory distraction. A two-sample t test was utilized to compare the difference in the mean scores of correct responses in the questionnaire between the musical and spoken information groups. Pearson’s product-moment correlation was applied to examine the correlation between the scores in the questionnaire and the degree of self-rated distractions. The result for the primary investigation demonstrated that the musical information group scored slightly higher on the questionnaire than the spoken information group did; however, there was no significant difference between the two groups. For the secondary investigation, the correlation between the scores in the questionnaire and the degree of self-rated distractions revealed no significant result, displaying a moderately weak negative correlation (r=-.274, p=.822). However, there was a difference between the spoken information group (r=-.475, p=.063) and musical information group (r=-.126, p=.654). Further examinations that explore the effect of music on attention are recommended.
Attentiveness is an important ability that allows individuals to learn new materials, complete tasks, and live independently in society. Teachers are interested in methods for improving students’ focus and on-task behavior (Madsen & Madsen, 1983; Madsen & Yarbrough, 1985, as cited in Madsen, 1997). Also, music therapists occasionally set a goal to increase attention span for children with mental retardation because these individuals have difficulty sustaining their attention (Davis, 1999). The importance of attention/attentiveness is undeniable; yet, what constitutes “attention”?
By definition, attention is “a cognitive process that relates to the immediate, at the moment, experience of an individual; a state of current and selective awareness. It is an act of directing the mind to objects or events that necessitate careful observing or listening” (Pashler, 1997, as cited in Wolfe & Noguchi, 2009, ¶ 1). There are five models in attention functions (Mateer, 2000, and Sohlberg and Mateer, 1989, as cited in Thaut p.184):
1. Focused: the ability to “respond discretely to specific…stimuli”
2. Sustained: the “ability to maintain a consistent behavioral response during continuous
and repetitive activity”
3. Selective: the skill to “maintain a behavioral or cognitive set in the face
4. Alternating: the ability to “shift focus of attention and move between tasks”
5. Divided: the ability to “respond simultaneously to multiple tasks” (Mateer 2000, p.79 as
cited in Thaut p.184)
Numerous researchers have studied the means of enhancing or influencing these functions, and investigations of the effect of music on attention are one of these.
Research findings in relation to music and attention are still inconclusive. Wolfe and Noguchi (2009) investigated the use of music to sustain attention of young children in the presence of auditory distractions. The results of this study demonstrated that the participants sustained their attention for a longer period of time during a musical story than a spoken story in the presence of distracting sounds. Robb (2003) found that music significantly helped young children to increase their attentive behavior in a group instructional setting. Darrow, Johnson, Agnew, Fuller, and Uchisaka (2006) explored the effect of preferred music on selective attention on music majors and non-music majors. The results revealed that both majors processed a significantly greater amount of items during conditions of music than during conditions of no music. The music majors identified significantly more items than non-music majors did. These findings can be rationalized because Davaranjan and Stanford University medical center team discovered that “music engages the areas of the brain involved with paying attention, making predictions and updating the event in memory” (Business Wire, 2007, ¶ 2).
However, there are studies that did not confirm the positive effect of music on attention. Flowers and O’Neill (2005) examined self-reported distractions of middle school students in listening to music and prose. The participants reported being distracted more often during music than during prose. In Sims’ study (2005), prekindergarten children were instructed in listening to music as long as they wanted under two conditions: 1) with tasks and 2) with no tasks. The researcher compared the duration of self-determined music listening time by the participants in the two conditions. There were no significant differences between these two groups. Similarly, Sussman (2009) did not find any significant results in the effect of music on peer awareness (paying attention to peers in this context) when preschool age children with developmental disabilities were asked to pass an object to peers with music or without music.
Due to the conflicting findings regarding the effect of music on attention, researchers are required to carefully analyze independent variables that can possibly affect the dependant variable “attention”. A number of investigators have discovered attributes that influence attention. Madsen (1997) found that melody captured the highest degree of attentiveness when individuals were asked to focus on one of the following: melody, dynamic, everything, timbre, and rhythm. Melody also had the highest relation with aesthetic responses, which indicates that attentiveness and aesthetic response were closely related. In addition to these attributes that influence attentiveness, musical preference and cultural identity affect the impact of music on attentiveness (Abril & Flowers, 2007).
There are a wide variety of discoveries concerning the influence of music on attention, and the discussion over this topic is perpetual. This investigation focused on attention in the presence of auditory distractions because having noises in academic, therapy, and work settings are not ideal but occur quite often. Adults and children have similar responses to distractions (Flowers, 2001), and individuals need to sustain attention and concentrate on tasks during conditions of distractions. There are two objectives in this study. The primary purpose was to investigate the effects of musical and spoken information on sustaining adults’ attention in the presence of auditory distractions. The secondary purpose was to examine the correlation between attention performance and the degree of self-rated distractions.
Thirty-one adults in the Midwest region of the United States (N=31) participated in this study. Nine were males and Twenty-two were females. Backgrounds of the participants varied, such as students, health care professionals, retailers, and office workers.
A MP3 recording of the first three verses from the song “Thank You Mr. Ryan” by Jane Stanfield was selected as the song to be played for the musical information group. This song was selected because it is relatively unknown and has story-like lyrics. A simple arpeggio pattern on the guitar, which is minimal and does not overshadow the singing, accompanies the song. The lyrics from the above song were read to the spoken information group by a female voice at the same speed as the song. This was recorded onto the Mac Garage Band program and transferred onto an iPod. Both musical and spoken recordings were 1 minute 55 seconds long in duration and presented to the participants at sound levels ranging from approximately 70 to 80 dB through the iPod with a speaker attached. For the auditory distractions, four distracting sounds were purchased and downloaded from http://www.amazon.com: An ambulance siren, people’s conversations, a bird singing and a telephone ringing. The distracting sounds were recorded onto a CD and were presented to the participants for 18 seconds of duration each at sound levels ranging from approximately 30 to 70 dB via a CD player with speakers attached.
Instructions for this experiment were recorded onto the Mac Garage Band program by a male voice. They were transferred to an iPod and presented to the participants though the device. The questionnaire regarding the content of the musical/spoken information included ten questions, consisting of 5 close-ended questions and 5 fill-in blank questions (See attached). The participants were also asked to self-rate the degree of distractions during each distracting sound on a 5-point Likert scale: Never (1 point), Little (2 points), Somewhat (3 points), Much (4 points), and A great deal (5 points). The questionnaire was presented to the participants after they listened to either the musical or spoken information.
A two-sample independent design was utilized for the primary objective, which was to investigate the effects of musical and spoken information on sustaining adults’ attention in the presence of auditory distractions. The independent variables are sung information with a guitar accompaniment and spoken information. The dependant variable is the number of correct answers regarding the sung/spoken information in the questionnaire. The participants (N=31) were randomly assigned to two groups, musical information group (n=15) and spoken information group (n=16).
Pearson’s product-moment correlation was used for the secondary objective, which was to examine the correlation between correct responses in the questionnaire concerning the sung/spoken information and the degree of self-rated distractions. Each participant self-rated the degree of his/her distractions for each of four distracting sounds on a 5-point Likert scale.
The experimenter placed an iPod with a speaker that played the musical/spoken information on a table. Behind the speaker, she placed a CD player with two small speakers to play distracting sounds. The experimenter asked the participants to sit in a chair in front of the table. She pressed the button “Play” to present a recorded instruction for either musical or spoken information on the iPod. The instruction was the following: “You are going to listen to a short song/story which will be played on the iPod. While you are listening to the song/story, you may hear other sounds in the background. Just try to ignore the sounds and focus on the song/story. After you listen to the song/story, you will fill out a questionnaire about the content of the song/story. Do you have any questions?” After the participants fully understood the tasks, the experimenter pushed the button “Play” on the iPod to start the sung or spoken recording. While the participants were listening to one of the above recordings, the experimenter pressed the button “Play” on the CD player with speakers to play the distracting sounds one at a time: an ambulance siren at the time of 7 seconds, people’s conversations at the time of 26 seconds, a bird singing at the time of 52 seconds and a telephone ringing at the time of 1 minute 30 seconds within the musical/story information. The experimenter pushed the button “Pause” on the iPod to stop the musical/spoken information and provided the participants with the questionnaire and a pen.
The primary purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of musical and spoken information on sustaining adults’ attention in the presence of auditory distractions. The mean score of the questionnaire in the musical information group was 5.60 with the standard deviation of 2.09. For the spoken information group, the mean score was 5.44 with the standard deviation of 1.84. Means and standard deviation scores of both groups are presented in table 1. An alpha level of .05 was used for all statistical tests. The two-tailed P value equals 0.822, and there was no significant difference on the mean scores in the questionnaire between the musical and spoken information groups.
The secondary purpose of this investigation was to examine the correlation between the correct responses in the questionnaire and the degree of self-rated distractions. All participants completed rating the degree of distractions on each of four distracting sounds. The total points in the four 5-point Likert scales were compared with the scores in the questionnaire regarding the sung/spoken information. No significant results were found. The correlation between the scores in the questionnaire and the degree of distractions was moderately weak (r=-.274, p=.136). This result is illustrated in table 2. However, there was a difference between the spoken information group (r=-.475, p=.063) and musical information group (r=-.126, p=.654). This finding indicates that the spoken information group identified the degree of distractions more accurately than the musical information group did. The result is shown in table 3.
The main objective of this study was to examine the effects of musical and spoken information on sustaining adults’ attention in the presence of auditory distractions. The process of this investigation required the participants both sustained attention and selective attention. Sustaining attention appeared to be relatively effortless for some individuals but extremely difficult for others, no matter if they listened to musical or spoken information. There was no significant difference on the mean scores in the questionnaire concerning the sung/spoken information between the musical and spoken information groups. This result was dissimilar to the finding mentioned earlier in this paper that music facilitated sustained attention (Wolfe & Noguchi, 2009) and selective attention (Darrow, Johnson, Agnew, Fuller & Uchisaka, 2006).
The secondary objective of this investigation was to analyze the correlation between the correct responses in the questionnaire and the degree of self-rated distractions. The correlation was negative, indicating that the higher the scores in the questionnaire are, the lower the self-rated distractions are. Although the correlation was moderately weak, the result implies that some individuals were aware whether they were able or unable to perform well on the questionnaire during conditions of auditory distractions. The reason for the difference in the correlation results between the spoken and musical information groups are unknown. This finding requires further investigations.
In addition to the above results, an interesting observation was made by the experimenter. Auditory distractions appeared to interfere with individuals’ auditory processing not only when noises were present, but also after the participants listened to the sung/spoken information. For instance, there were no distracting sounds during the line “I went to see my folks in June.” But immediately after this line, the auditory distraction, a telephone ringing, was presented. In the questionnaire, the participants were asked to fill in the blank “I went to see my folks in ( ).”
The majority of the participants were unable to correctly fill in this blank, though there were no distracting sounds while the above line was presented. A participant verbally reported that she had been greatly distracted by the telephone sounds and was unable to retain information because of the distractions.
This study was preliminary, and there are several factors that possibly affected the outcomes of this examination. First, the reliability of the procedure is unknown, since it was composed by the experimenter for this study. The difficulty levels of the questionnaire appeared to be appropriate; yet, it needs repeated trials to prove the reliability of the testing for this type of investigation. Second, the qualities of the musical and spoken information were different. The song used as the musical information was professionally recorded, and the spoken information was unprofessionally recorded through the Garage Band Program. Third, this study utilized a small sample and had limitations in terms of time, equipment, and environment. Caution is necessary for drawing conclusions and making generalizations to other settings and populations. Further investigations that examine the effect of music on attention are recommended.
Abril, C., & Flowers, P. (2007). Attention, preference, and identity in music listening by middle school students of different linguistic backgrounds. Journal of Research in Music Education, 55(3), 204-19. Retrieved November 11, 2009, from OmniFile Full Text Select database.
Darrow, A. A., Johnson, C.M., Agnew, S, Rink Fuller, E., & Uchisaka, M. (2006). Effect of preferred music as a distraction on music majors’ and nonmusic majors’ Selective Attention. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 170, 21-31.
Davis, W. (1999). Music therapy for mentally retarded children and adults. In W. B. Davis, K. E. Gfeller, & M. H. Thaut (Eds.), An Introduction to Music Therapy: Theory and Practice (p. 63-88). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
Flowers, P. J. (2001). Patterns of attention in music listening. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 148, 48-59.
Flowers, P., & O’Neill, A. (2005). Self-reported distractions of middle school students in listening to music and prose. Journal of Research in Music Education, 53(4), 308-321. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.
Madsen, C. (1997). Focus of attention and aesthetic response. Journal of Research in Music Education, 45, 80-89. Retrieved November 10, 2009, from OmniFile Full Text Select database.
Music moves brain to pay attention, Stanford study finds (2007). Business Wire. Retrieved November 3, 2009 from the University of Kansas Libraries Health & Wellness Resource Center and Alternative Health Module.
Robb, S. (2003). Music interventions and group participation skills of preschoolers with visual impairments: Raising questions about music, arousal, and attention. The Journal of Music Therapy, 40(4), 266-282. Retrieved November 11, 2009, from OmniFile Full Text Select database.
Sims, W. (2005). Effects of free versus directed listening on duration of individual music listening by prekindergarten Children. Journal of Research in Music Education, 53(1), 78-86. Retrieved November 11, 2009, from OmniFile Full Text Select database.
Sussman, J. (2009). The effect of music on peer awareness in preschool age children with developmental disabilities. The Journal of Music Therapy, 46(1), 53-68. Retrieved November 14, 2009, from OmniFile Full Text Select database.
Thaut, M. H. (2008). Rhythm, music, and the brain. New York, NY: Routledge.
Wolfe, D., & Noguchi, L. (2009). The use of music with young children to improve sustained attention during a vigilance task in the presence of auditory distractions. The Journal of Music Therapy, 46(1), 69-82. Retrieved November 14, 2009, from OmniFile Full Text Select database.
Means and Standard Deviations of the Musical Information Group and Spoken information group
Group Musical (n=15) Spoken (n=16)
Mean 5.60 5.44
SD 2.09 1.84
Correlations between the Scores in the Questionnaire and Self-rated Distractions
|Scores in the questionnaire Self-rated distractions|
Scores in the questionnaire 1.000 -.274
Sig. (2-tailed) .136
N 31 31
Self-rated distractions -.274 1.000
Sig. (2-tailed) .136
N 31 31
Correlations between the Scores in the Questionnaire and Self-rated Distractions in the Musical and Spoken Information Groups
Musical information group (n=15) -.126
Spoken information group (n=16) -.475
Appendix A: QUESTIONS USED IN THE EXPERIMENT
Please circle one: musician non-musician Gender: Male Female
I. Please answer the questions and fill in the blanks about the song/story you just listened to:
1. What musical instrument did the teacher bring to his class?
2. “He sang his ( ) songs.”
3. What grade was the writer of the song/story when she heard her teacher’s singing?
4. “The verse about the ( ) of life was wondrous.”
5. Who is the writer thanking?
6. “You’ll never know how much it’s ( ) to me.”
7. “I went to home to see my folks in ( ).”
8. How many of them were sitting in the kitchen?
9. What were they having in the kitchen?
10. “Mother said she heard he is….” (choose one) : a. still working b. not working
Answers to questions 1-10.
5. Mr. Ryan/the teacher
10. a. still working
Appendix B: (SELF-RATED) LEVELS OF DISTRACTION
II. Please rate how much you were distracted:
1) During an ambulance siren:
Never Little Somewhat Much A great deal
2) During people’s conversations:
Never Little Somewhat Much A great deal
3) During a bird’s singing:
Never Little Somewhat Much A great deal
4) During a telephone ringing:
Never Little Somewhat Much A great deal
Copy right – Noriko Nakamura