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According to a 2019 study published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, listening to music while you work “significantly impairs” creativity. The study had people complete a series of word puzzles and other tasks to measure their creativity both in silence and while listening to music. It was found that the participants’ scores on the puzzles were much lower when they completed them while music was playing.

This might come as a surprise for those who insist on listening to music while they work. After all, just about everyone has heard anecdotes about how listening to music helps them concentrate while they study, write papers, or do anything else that requires a lot of brainpower; it must come as a blow to some of them to find that the opposite is true. And yet, there might still be some truth to the notion that music helps with creativity. You need to listen to the right kind of music.

“Happy” Music and Creativity

Another study published in the journal PLOS One suggested that listening to “happy” music could help people concentrate on the kind of divergent thinking necessary for creative tasks. “Happy” music was defined in the study as upbeat classical music. Researchers didn’t quite understand why this kind of music improved creativity. Still, they think it has something to do with how its more lively nature energizes the brain and encourages more flexible thinking. In other words, upbeat music can help you think more outside the box and be more creative. Happier music has also been shown to reduce anxiety and improve one’s mood, which might also encourage listeners to be a little more insightful and more creative.

So yes, listening to music can somehow improve your creativity, but only if you listen to the right music. Listening to something happy and upbeat that puts you in a good mood might help you if you’re trying to complete a complex task while listening to something sad or angry might have the opposite effect. Then again, there is a lot that we don’t know about how music affects the brain even though we’ve been listening to it practically since the beginning of human civilization. More research needs to be done, but until then, you can safely listen to what you enjoy for inspiration.