For many years I worked in an environment where one person’s preference in music was blasted out through speakers all around the office and warehouse. It got me wondering – is there a style of music which could be played in the background that wouldn’t serve as a distraction?
While focusing on the field of industrial and organizational psychology in graduate school, I decided to formally research this from a scientific perspective. Below is an excerpt from a formal paper I wrote on the subject. I’m going to keep the answer to the question above a secret for now, though I’d be happy to share my findings with you during an interview. :)
The field of psychology is largely a collective effort by scientists, scholars, and researchers to improve the lives of others. It could be argued that over the millennia, no other component of humanity has stretched across innumerable cultures and boundaries to improve lives than the arts, specifically, music. Indeed, the effects of music on and its improvement of the livelihood of people has been documented ad nauseam and has not slowed down in modern times. In more modern times, researchers continue to seek the perfect tone, beat, and depth of sound to soothe emotions, increase focus and attention, and ultimately aid humans in their productivity.
There exists a common component of music that has received significantly less attention and consideration. Lyrics are produced by the oldest and most pervasive instrument of all – the human voice. And it is this vocal component of music – lyrics – that this proposal seeks to address.
It is necessary to first distinguish between a few aspects of this research – namely, the difference between sound, noise, music, and lyrics. We will define sound simply as one may expect, the auditory interpretation of sound waves progressing through the medium of breathable air. Both music and lyrics are of course types of sound. Noise is sound too, but for our purposes we will define noise as unstructured and unwanted sound (Smith, 2012). The bang of a gunshot, shattering of a dropped glass, and static from between radio stations are all good examples of noise. Alternatively, we will define music as structured noise. Notes from an instrument and rhythmic tapping or thumping are all examples of sound that can be structured to create music. Music created by a human voice is lyrics, but for the purpose of this paper there is one important caveat: We will be examining only intelligible, same-language lyrics. These lyrics engage the brain’s speech centers, while unintelligible and / or foreign language lyrics do not (A. Petrova, personal communication, October 26, 2014). The dissonance that arises when the brain’s speech centers are undesirably at work is annoyance, and it is this annoyance that hinders focus and attention.