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The surprising reason you might be less productive at work


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You’re at the office knocking out tasks on your to-do list—with headphones in and your fave album serving as background music. But have you noticed that you’re singing along (inside your head, of course) with Beyonce whenever the chorus drops?

That’s because listening to music takes up part of your brain power. A new study published in Acoustical Society of America has found that hearing “meaningful” sounds decreases performance on cognitive tasks—which makes sense, considering how you can’t help but internally sing along when you know the lyrics. Even if you don’t know the words, listening to music with lyrics is essentially like having someone speak to you as you’re trying to work, researchers say.

The study took volunteers and had them count the number of times a certain colored square appeared on the screen in front of them while either “meaningful” sounds (like people speaking) and “meaningless” sounds (a pseudo-voice noise) played through their headphones for a 10-minute period. They then had to rate the level of annoyance with each sound on a scale of one to seven.

During the experiment, the volunteers’ brains waves were measured through electrodes. After reviewing, the researchers found that meaningful noises (AKA music or people talking) had a stronger effect on their annoyance levels and a decline in cognitive performance on tasks that involved memory or algorithmic skill.

And, when they were subjected to the meaningful noises, the EEG measurements of their brain activity revealed large dips, “indicating that selective attention to cognitive tasks was influenced by the degree of meaningless of the noise,” researchers wrote.

Sounds like you might want to save your go-to playlist for after-work hours (or the treadmill!).

Looking for more ways to be productive? Here’s a hack that actually makes your brain feel better. And this is how you can use emotional agility to crush any career goal.

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