What does science say
In an experiment involving
62 undergraduate students
taking an accounting
course, half of the group
was allowed to text during a
lecture and half had their
phones turned off…
These studies and more from:
After the lecture both
groups took the same
quiz and the students
who texted scored
significantly lower on
Ellis, Y., Daniels, W. and Jauregui, A. (2010). The effect of multitasking on
the grade performance of business students. Research in Higher Education
Students taking a general psychology
course were asked to read on a
computer a 3,828 word passage.
One group used instant messaging
before they started reading, another
group used instant messaging while
they were reading and a third group
read without instant messaging.
The group that used instant messaging while they
read took between 22 and 59% longer to read the
passage than students in the other two groups…
…and that was after the time spent instant
messaging was subtracted from the reading times.
Bowman, L. L., Levine, L. E., Waite, B. M. and Dendron, M. (2010). Can students
really multitask? An experimental study of instant messaging while reading.
Computers & Education, 54, 927-931.
A name has been coined for this problem:
Continuous Partial Attention Syndrome
Yes, sadly, this applies to listening to music
while you study
Students were given a test in five different scenarios–
1. A quiet environment
2. With “steady state” speech. This means a single word (in this case,
“three”) was repeated for the duration of the test
3. With “changing state” speech. This means a variety of words (in
this case, random digits from 1-9) were played during the test
4. With “liked” music, meaning a song of the students choice (such as
Lady Gaga, Rihanna, or Arcade Fire). Students brought in their own
music, the only requirement was that it had to have vocals
5. With “disliked” music, which in this case was a metal song called
“Thrashers” by Death Angel (all students in the study disliked metal)
The results found no significant difference between test
scores with liked music, disliked music, and changing
In other words, whether students enjoyed the music or
not, having it on while they worked was just as
distracting as hearing someone talk.
Scores were significantly higher for tests taken in a
quiet environment or with steady-state speech.
The brains of the students listening to the steadystate speech were able to tune it out in the same
way that your brain can tune out the whir of an
air-conditioner or the hum of traffic.
As a student, how can you stop
your attention from being divided
while doing homework?
1) Turn off the TV
while you study
Have separate TV time
2) Nominate your
study block of time
each night and leave
your phone with
someone else* while
*Locked! Of Course!
3) No Music!
You’re not really listening to it
If you are, you aren’t working and
everything will take longer.
4) If you don’t need the internet for your
work, pull the cable, or turn off your WiFi
to remove temptation.
If you do need the internet, allocate 5
minutes every half hour for FB, Tumblr,
whatever. Be tough on yourself and make