The effect of preferred background music on task‐focus in sustained attention

Kiss, Luca and Linnell, Karina J. 2021. The effect of preferred background music on task‐focus in sustained attention. Psychological Research, 85(6), pp. 2313-2325. ISSN 0340-0727 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Although many people listen to music while performing tasks that require sustained attention, the literature is inconclusive about its effects. The present study examined performance on a sustained-attention task and explored the effect of background music on the prevalence of different attentional states, founded on the non-linear relationship between arousal and performance. Forty students completed a variation of the Psychomotor Vigilance Task—that has long been used to measure sustained attention—in silence and with their self-selected or preferred music in the background. We collected subjective reports of attentional state (specifically mind-wandering, task-focus and external distraction states) as well as reaction time (RT) measures of performance. Results indicated that background music increased the proportion of task-focus states by decreasing mind-wandering states but did not affect external distraction states. Task-focus states were linked to shorter RTs than mind-wandering or external distraction states; however, background music did not reduce RT or variability of RT significantly compared to silence. These findings show for the first time that preferred background music can enhance task-focused attentional states on a low-demanding sustained-attention task and are compatible with arousal mediating the relationship between background music and task-performance.

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23 July 2020Accepted
3 August 2020Published Online
September 2021Published

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Date Deposited:

17 Sep 2020 09:58

Last Modified:

20 Aug 2021 12:13

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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