Reading while listening to music: effects of tempo and intensity

Adriana Katharine Letnic, William Thompson

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractResearchpeer-review


Background to the research or performance/installation: In today’s society, music listening frequently accompanies another activity. For example, most people drive while listening to music, and with the recent explosion of portable music devices like the ipod, an ever-increasing proportion of students study in the presence of music.
Interdisciplinary issues: To what extent does background music interfere with the ability to perform non-musical cognitive activities?
The issue/hypothesis under investigation: In this investigation, we examined whether music interferes with reading comprehension, focusing on two major attributes of music: tempo and intensity. Twenty-five undergraduate psychology students were assessed for their comprehension and memory of written excerpts from the GMAT reading comprehension subset. Participants read excerpts of text while listening to classical background music. The tempo and intensity of the music was manipulated to create four repeated-measures conditions: slow/soft, slow/loud, fast/soft, fast/loud. For each condition, participants were given four minutes to read the text and were immediately tested on comprehension and memory.
Findings/description: A significant tempo by intensity interaction was observed, such that reading comprehension was poorest in the fast/loud music condition and best in the fast/soft condition.
Conclusions/future directions: The findings suggest that changes in tempo can have dramatic implications for reading comprehension, but only when the music is relatively loud. Results are discussed in relation to the cognitive capacity model (Kahneman, 1973) and the arousal-mood hypothesis (Thompson et al., 2001), with an attempt to integrate these apparently contradictory theories.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2007
Externally publishedYes
EventInternational Conference on Music Communication Science - University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Duration: 3 Dec 20077 Dec 2007


ConferenceInternational Conference on Music Communication Science
Abbreviated titleICoMCS


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