Publication Date

Summer 2019

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Jenni Redifer (Director), Adam Lockwood, and Steven Wininger

Degree Program

Department of Psychology

Degree Type

Master of Arts


Many students claim that they can study well while listening to music (Anderson & Fuller, 2010; Patton, Stinard, & Routh, 1983), but how does listening to music affect students’ ability to encode and recall studied information? Previous research on background music and attention has revealed mixed results, with some studies indicating that background music can help reduce inattentional blindness (Beanland, Allen, & Pammer, 2011), while others suggest that music may hinder the attention of the listener (by Shih, Huang, & Chaing, 2012). Additionally, individual differences in working memory capacity impact one’s ability to store and retrieve information, as well as to suppress any intrusive thoughts and ignore distractions (Cowan et al., 2005; Rosen & Engle, 1998). The purpose of the present study was to determine if the musical components of polyphony and homophony impact students’ ability to encode and recall information, while accounting for the impact of working memory capacity. Participants were randomly assigned to one of five musical conditions: simplistic without lyrics, simplistic with lyrics, complex without lyrics, complex with lyrics, or control (silence). In each condition, participants studied Swahili English word pairs, then completed a verbatim recall test. Higher working memory capacity was associated with recalling more items correctly. The results of the study indicated that there were no significant differences in recall performance due to music condition when accounting for working memory capacity. Potential explanations for the results of this study, as well as implications for future research, are examined.


Cognitive Psychology | Experimental Analysis of Behavior | Music