Research Article: When listening to rain sounds boosts arithmetic ability

Date Published: February 21, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Alice Mado Proverbio, Francesco De Benedetto, Maria Vittoria Ferrari, Giorgia Ferrarini, Lutz Jäncke.


Studies in the literature have provided conflicting evidence about the effects of background noise or music on concurrent cognitive tasks. Some studies have shown a detrimental effect, while others have shown a beneficial effect of background auditory stimuli. The aim of this study was to investigate the influence of agitating, happy or touching music, as opposed to environmental sounds or silence, on the ability of non-musician subjects to perform arithmetic operations. Fifty university students (25 women and 25 men, 25 introverts and 25 extroverts) volunteered for the study. The participants were administered 180 easy or difficult arithmetic operations (division, multiplication, subtraction and addition) while listening to heavy rain sounds, silence or classical music. Silence was detrimental when participants were faced with difficult arithmetic operations, as it was associated with significantly worse accuracy and slower RTs than music or rain sound conditions. This finding suggests that the benefit of background stimulation was not music-specific but possibly due to an enhanced cerebral alertness level induced by the auditory stimulation. Introverts were always faster than extroverts in solving mathematical problems, except when the latter performed calculations accompanied by the sound of heavy rain, a condition that made them as fast as introverts. While the background auditory stimuli had no effect on the arithmetic ability of either group in the easy condition, it strongly affected extroverts in the difficult condition, with RTs being faster during agitating or joyful music as well as rain sounds, compared to the silent condition. For introverts, agitating music was associated with faster response times than the silent condition. This group difference may be explained on the basis of the notion that introverts have a generally higher arousal level compared to extroverts and would therefore benefit less from the background auditory stimuli.

Partial Text

The aim of this study was to investigate the influence of background music on the ability of non-musician subjects to perform arithmetic operations. For this purpose, the effect of different types of music, environmental noise and silence on the performance of each subject was compared.

The purpose of this study was to investigate how the presence of musical or environmental background stimuli could influence cognitive processing and, more specifically, arithmetic calculations. In addition, we wished to investigate the possible modulation of this effect due to individual differences in the extroversion/introversion trait.

In summary, we believe that it may be concluded that apart from specifications—(e.g., extroverts benefiting more because of their lower basic arousal level [62], touching music failing to boost performance and RTs due to its relaxing properties and slow tempo [72], agitating music being detrimental to accuracy during easy calculations because it interfered and overloaded attentional capacities [2], etc.)—a background auditory stimulus consisting of high tempo, unfamiliar classical music pieces, as well as rain sounds (a storm with intense rain and occasional thunder), improved performance and quickened RTs during difficult arithmetic calculations. It can be speculated that the auditory background increased cerebral arousal and alertness levels [72]. It should be noted that this conclusion strictly refers to a non-musician population not particularly drawn to or distracted by musical material.




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