Classical music and white noise do not improve cognitive functions related to conflict processing


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In the past, many neuroscientists have investigated the potential therapeutic value of classical music and other types of music or sounds in alleviating some of the symptoms or deficits associated with different neuropsychological disorders. While some studies have suggested that listening to classical music and white noise may improve cognitive function, these effects are still poorly understood.

Researchers from the Monash Medicine Discovery Institute and Monash University in Australia recently conducted a study specifically exploring the possibility that classical music and white noise may have a positive impact on people’s ability to process conflicting information. Their findings, however, published in Frontiers in Neurosciencesuggest that these two auditory stimuli have no benefit for this specific cognitive function.

“To better understand how the processing of certain acoustic properties can influence conflict processing, we asked a large cohort of undergraduate students to complete the Stroop Color and Word Test (SCWT) under three background conditions. different: classical music, white noise and silence,” Alexander J. Pascoe and his colleagues told Medical Xpress. “Due to pandemic guidelines and the need to run the experiment remotely, participants also completed the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST), so that the reliability and consistency of the acquired data could be assessed. “

The 67 undergraduate students who participated in the researchers’ study were asked to complete two different tests (i.e. the SCWT and the WCST) either in silence, while listening to white noise or music. classic. The SCWT is a widely used neuropsychological test that assesses a person’s ability to process specific stimuli while exhibiting conflicting stimulus attributes. This usually involves naming the color of fonts, even if those fonts are used to spell words of inconsistent color (eg, green, red, blue).

The WCST is another test often used to measure people’s executive functioning, particularly abstract reasoning and cognitive flexibility abilities. In this test, people are asked to match different cards according to a “rule” which is unknown to them and which changes several times during the experiment.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, each of the participants performed the SCWT and WCST tests at home under the three different acoustic conditions (i.e. in silence, with classical music and with white noise) , each of the three trials being separate. at least three days. The researchers then analyzed the performance of the participants in each of the conditions.

“We found that white noise, but not classical music, increased the difference in response time between congruent (low conflict) and incongruent (high conflict) trials (cost of conflict), which impaired performance,” they wrote. explained Pascoe and his colleagues in their article. “The WCST results indicated that home data collection was reliable, replicating a performance bias reported in our previous laboratory experiments. The two auditory stimuli were played at similar intensity, so their dissociable effects may have resulted from different emotional responses among participants, where white noise, but not music, elicited a negative response.”

Essentially, the results collected by Pascoe and colleagues suggest that neither classical music nor white noise led to an improvement in the participants’ ability to process contradictory stimuli (i.e., they did not did not lead to better performance in the SCWT and WCST tests). White noise, however, seemed to negatively affect the performance of participating students, making it harder for them to process conflicting stimuli.

“Integrated with previous literature, our results indicate that aside from changes in tempo and valence, classical music does not affect cognitive functions associated with conflict processing, while white noise impairs these functions in a significant way. similar to other stressors, and therefore requires further research before its implementation in neuropsychiatric care,” Pascoe and colleagues added in their paper.

Recent work by this team of researchers offers valuable new insights into the effects of music and white noise on a specific cognitive function, namely the ability to process conflicting information. In the future, their study could inspire other teams to dig deeper into these effects or assess the impact of these auditory stimuli on other cognitive processes.

Music combined with auditory beat stimulation may reduce anxiety in some

More information:
Alexander J. Pascoe et al, Separable Effects of Music and White Noise on Conflict-Induced Behavioral Adjustments, Frontiers in Neuroscience (2022). DOI: 10.3389/fnins.2022.858576

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