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Michael K. Dove

M.M.E., University of Missouri – Kansas City, 1994

Submitted to the graduate degree program in Music Education and Music Therapy

and the Graduate Faculty of the University of Kansas

in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy (Music Education) Chairperson Committee members Date Defended: April 10, 2009 The Dissertation Committee for Michael Dove certifies

That this is the approved version of the following dissertation:





Chairperson Date approved: April 28, 2009 ii ABSTRACT This study investigated relationships among the ability to audiate musical stimuli, background music condition, familiarity, gender, general academic achievement, age, and frequency of use on the level of distraction caused by background music. Eightyfour general college students were given the AMMA. The students were divided into three equal groups and given three cognitive tests (Nelson-Denny Reading Test/D2 Test of Attention/Spatial Ability Test) under three background music conditions (no music/sedative music/stimulative music). A counterbalance design was followed.

Orchestral background music was used during the treatment. The findings suggest that general academic achievement had a significant positive relationship with reading comprehension, spatial ability, and concentration regardless of background music condition. Furthermore, the sedative music condition had a significant negative relationship on measures of concentration. These findings are discussed in relation to previous studies. Implications for educators are given.



I would like to thank my colleagues, David Giles and Beverly Boland, for their help in data collection; Linda Rude for graciously allowing me access to her class; and Richard Boland for all of your advice and for setting the standard as a music department chair. It has been my honor to work alongside all of you.

My deepest gratitude to those who have provided guidance to me throughout this doctoral program: Alice-Ann Darrow, Rudolf Radocy; Lois Elmer for guiding me through all of the paperwork requirements and for keeping me in line; my dissertation committee Darren McGee, Martin Bergee, James Daugherty, George Duerksen; and a special thanks to my committee chair, major professor and mentor Christopher Johnson. Thank you for your patience and the scholarly standards you asked me to achieve.

To my father and mother, Richard and Carolyn Dove, whose personal and professional lives are my inspirations for achievement, thank you for all you invested in me. Dad, I wish you could read this dissertation. I know you would have loved it.

To all of the fantastic librarians at The Library Station of the Springfield-Greene County Public Library system, thanks for making me feel welcome and for keeping me awake during those long study sessions.

Finally, to my wife Michelle and my sons David and John, thank you for your support and for your patience during the many hours I left for the library to conduct research and write. I love you all very much.









Physiological/Behavioral Effects

Emotional Effects

Positive Mood Enhancement


Major and Minor Modes

Anxiety Reduction

Mental Arousal

Cognitive Effects

Cognitive Load

Simple vs. Complex

Stimulative vs. Sedative

Math Performance

Reading Comprehension

Personality Effects

Focus of Attention

Introversion and Extroversion

Summary of Research Findings



v Pilot Study









Research Questions

Limitations of the Study

Suggestions for Future Research




A. Human Subjects Committee Approval

B. Informed Assent Form

C. PreTest Questionnaire

D. Post-Test Questionnaire

E. Spatial Test

F. Experimental Procedures Task Analysis

G. Raw Data


1. Intercorrelations Between Subscales for Advanced Measures of Music Audiation (AMMA)

2. Table of mean scores and standard deviations for ACT, AMMA, spatial ability, reading comprehension, reading rate and d2 test of attention by group......53

3. Intercorrelations Between Test Variables

4. Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting NelsonDenny Reading Comprehension Scores

5. Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting NelsonDenny Reading Rate Scores

6. Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting D2 Test of Attention Concentration Performance Scores

7. Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting Spatial Ability Scores

8. Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting Frequency of Background Music Use While Studying

–  –  –

Music is everywhere. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, we have more portable technology and ease of access to the music of our choice than any time in the history of the world. There is music in our churches, our malls, our elevators, our houses, our cars and even our classrooms. Recordings have moved from bulky vinyl records and erasable magnetic tapes, through digital compact disks, to tiny electronic files that can be played on multiple devices such as large stereo systems or small personal mp3 players.

The ubiquitous nature of today’s music has placed it in situations never thought of in generations past. Although the popularity of music lends credence to its almost universal acceptance and enjoyment, does this constant use of music in the background or foreground have an effect on our society? Does it enhance or hinder our productivity? What is the impact on education? Is this merely a preoccupation with personal enjoyment, or does music have any beneficial effects on our lives?

These questions are much too broad to be covered in a single research paper.

Therefore the current study will focus on the effects of background music in education.

Furnham and Stanley (2003) posited that the availability, affordability and mobility of music today would likely escalate in its use during study time. In fact, a casual walk through most university libraries will find an increasing number of students studying with ear buds or headphones. This corresponds with the findings of Beentjes, Koolstra and van der Voort (1996) in which 99% of the respondents reported working on homework with background music playing.

Along with the increase in personal use of background music, parents and teachers have likewise added music to the ambient noise of homes and classrooms.

With the coining of the phrase “Mozart Effect” and its subsequent findings, there has been an explosion in interest on the possible beneficial effects of background music on intelligence. Industries have been created to supply parents with brain enhancing music and videos. Even state governments have proposed sending appropriate music home from the hospital for every child born in their state. Although many follow-up studies have failed to replicate the effect, never-the-less parents and teachers are playing background music for several hours during the day in the hope of giving their students every advantage possible.

James (2004) described the following ways he uses music in the classroom: a) as a cue to start class and to start and end breaks, b) as noise masking during small group discussion to prevent awkward silence, and c) as background during in-class reading or writing assignments. Although these are only ad hoc observations, he did not claim that the music makes his students smarter; rather he stated that the judicious use of music relaxes students, enhances the classroom atmosphere, promotes dialogue and engages students in the learning process. On class evaluations his students were asked if, “The use of music enhanced the classroom environment”. Out of 237 responses: 94.1% chose strongly agree or agree, 2.5% chose strongly disagree or disagree, and 3.4% chose undecided. The use of background music in classrooms and study time beg the following questions: “Are some students negatively affected by the background music?” “In our rush to help, are some students harmed?” These questions may be answered by analyzing the effects of background music on student performance.

Individuals listen to music at different levels of understanding (based on education) and in different ways (based on music aptitude, personality traits and influence of education). For example, music education helps the individual learn to label instrument timbres, identify basic form and texture, and identify the melody.

Personality traits and music aptitude may influence the way individuals naturally listen to music. Some listen to music at the surface level, where music is perceived as a general wash of sound. Others hear subtle changes in tonality, texture, rhythm, etc.

Does the ability to hear these subtle changes in music cause individuals to be more distracted in the presence of background music? Are individuals without this ability less likely to be distracted by background music? Which cognitive tasks are more likely to be disadvantaged in the presence of background music? These questions form the basis for the current research.

Student performance is affected by several factors including: self-control, mood, focus of attention, arousal, and intelligence. In the next chapter we will examine research demonstrating the effects of background music on mood, behavior, focus of attention, and arousal in relation to task performance.

–  –  –

There has been great interest throughout the last century over the positive and negative effects of background music. As early as 1943, Kirkpatrick wrote a literature review of World War II and pre-war era studies on the use of background music to increase factory production. Henderson, Crews, & Barlow (1945) studied background music distraction on reading comprehension. E. Thayer Gaston’s leadership in the 1940s on the new field of music therapy expanded research into areas of anxiety reduction, effects on behavior, physiological changes, mental arousal and mood (Johnson, 1981; Radocy & Boyle, 1997).

One of the main focuses of research continues to be the area of task performance. Many people seem to benefit from the presence of background music, while others are hindered by it and are unable to function efficiently. It is the purpose of this study to investigate empirically if the ability to hear subtle rhythmic and melodic variations in music is one possible factor in explaining why some people are distracted where others benefit. To this end the following review of literature focuses on empirical and quantitative research of background music relative to: (a) Physiological and behavioral effects, (b) Emotional effects, (c) Cognitive effects, and (d) Personality effects.

Physiological and Behavioral Effects Researchers have noted several physiological effects music has on the human body. The heart rate of some individuals slows down to match the tempo of background music. This is a process called “entrainment” (Giles, 1991). A program of accelerated learning called Superlearning was developed around this process. This system involves the use of soft background music to slow heart rate, relax minds and bodies, which in turn enables students to learn faster, thus affecting task performance (Ostrander & Schroeder, 1979).

Savan (1999) found that the physiological effect was not limited to heart rate.

Students with special educational needs and emotional and behavioral difficulties listening to certain Mozart orchestral compositions exhibited a reduction in blood pressure and body temperature as well as a lowered heart rate. In an earlier study (Savan, 1998), it was suggested that soothing music might stimulate an area of the brain to trigger a set of chemicals to be produced that would suppress the production of adrenaline and corticosteroids. These corticosteroids have been identified by Smith (1996) as physiological markers of high arousal and stress, which hinder learning. It is interesting to note that there was a marked improvement in student behavior accompanying the drop in physiological parameters during the background music condition (Savan, 1999).

Behavior management is an area of intense interest particularly in schools where it affects learning and safety. Music is an easy and inexpensive solution that may create dramatic results in certain situations. Background music studies have demonstrated that: first and second grade students calm down more rapidly after recess in the presence of familiar music with slow tempos around sixty beats per minute (Giles, 1991); soft music reduced the average out-of-seat and talk-out behaviors in the classroom and on the school bus (Campbell, 1996; and McCarty, McElfresh, Risce, & Wilson, 1978); elementary school children demonstrated more desirable social behavior with background music present than the group that had no music present (Kotwal, 1995); interventions by school authorities dropped 65% compared to no music (Giles, 1991); and there was less variability in student behavior compared to no music (Campbell, 1996).

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