Then last month I read an article about new research findings that music may actually impair creativity rather than enhance it. Surprised, I looked for more information and found that Newsweek had covered these findings in February. According to the Newsweek article, researchers in the U.K. and Sweden had "strong evidence of impaired performance when playing background music in comparison to quiet background conditions.” The article went on to say, "While the team did not test why this may be happening, they suggest that the effect could arise because music disrupts our verbal working memory, therefore making it harder to complete the given tasks."
Even though the study subjects weren't technically "writing," the experiment involved using verbal skills. The idea that music could have a negative impact on my verbal working memory was rather alarming to me. I decided to research further.
I found a rather technical article in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine that detailed how the original 1993 Mozart Effect research evaluated subject performance AFTER listening to Mozart's music--the study subjects didn't listen while attempting to carry out the task, which involved "spatial reasoning skills." And while the researchers found the music had a positive effect, it was short-lived, lasting only 10-15 minutes after the music stopped. These results are explained in layman's terms in an article on the BBC Future site, which called the task performed by the study subjects "imaginary origami." So it seems a bit of a stretch to apply the results, even if they were positive, to other forms of creativity.
I did find a Psychology Today article that talks specifically about how music affects writers. In the piece, Amy Fries, author of the book Daydreams at Work: Wake Up Your Creative Powers, says ". . . music remains one of the most powerful daydream launchers. In fact, it's so powerful, I sometimes avoid listening to it at certain times because I know it has the power to send my thoughts in a very particular direction." This is why many authors create playlists specific to their current writing project. When I was working on Playing by Heart, I listened to a playlist of baroque music my main character, Emilia, would have known. Of course, since she was a composer, I felt familiarity with that music was crucial to writing from her point of view. But I did something similar while writing Rosa, Sola, even though ten-year-old Rosa isn't a musician. Before a writing session, I'd listen to the 1960s popular music that would have been part of Rosa's world as well as the Italian songs I grew up with. For me, music functioned as what Fries calls "a gentle ramp that helps glide" me into my writing session.
Of course, using music as a "ramp" is different from having a background soundtrack. And now that I'm an empty-nester, I don't have as many distracting sounds. So lately I've been experimenting with working without music in the background. That leads me to this month's creativity tip. (If you missed my last Creativity Tip about keeping a "jot journal," you can read that complete newsletter online here.)