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The Effect of Instrumental Rap Music on Short-Term Memory

Updated on May 26, 2012

Abstract

This is an experiment designed to investigate the effects of instrumental “rap music” on short term memory as measured by the mean score received on a reading comprehension test. The experimental group (n=8; 2 Females and 6 Males) and the control group (n=9; 4 Females and 5 Males) consisted of an opportunity sample of 16-17 year olds from two International Baccalaureate History Higher Level 1 classes. The participants were predominantly Caucasian students from a rural high school in Central California. The experiment was a between- subjects design carried out during two class periods with the same reading passage and reading comprehension test excerpted from a California Standards Test (CST ©). The students in the control group read the passage and then answered the reading comprehension questions without any music played. The students in the experimental group listened to an instrumental rap song while reading the passage, then answered the reading comprehension questions without music being played. The independent variable was the presence or absence of music being played while reading, and the dependent variable was the score received on the reading comprehension test. A one-tailed t-test demonstrated that there was no significance at the p < .05 level, showing that the reading comprehension test score was not affected by the presence of music being played while reading. A one-tailed t-test also demonstrated a lack of statistical significance at the p < .05 level between the participants who answered ‘always’ or ‘sometimes’ when asked whether they listen to music while studying or doing homework among the participants in the experimental group. This may imply that music does not affect students’ performance on such tasks as reading comprehension, therefore the null hypothesis was accepted. This may be due to an increase in the availability of music for adolescents to listen to and an increase in the prevalence of students listening to music while multitasking. However, teachers should remain cautious of playing music during tests or other cognitive tasks, as it may still disrupt the concentration and cognitive ability of students.

The Effects of Instrumental Rap Music on Reading Comprehension

Over the past decade, advances in technology have made it easier and cheaper for adolescents to listen to music. As a result, the incidence of adolescents listening to music while studying or multitasking has increased. Many studies have consequently been conducted to examine the effects of music on learning and memory. The aim of this study was to determine whether listening to instrumental rap music[1] while reading would decrease students’ comprehension of the material. In an experiment conducted by Loyola University’s Psychological Department, participants completed a memory game while listening to classical, moderate rock, or no music. The experiment found that students performed better on the memory game while listening to no music than while listening to classical (Hjortsberg, 2009). This finding is supported by Fogelson, who found that music distracted students while taking a reading comprehension test (Fogelson, 1973).This would suggest that music is distracting to students while trying to perform cognitive tasks that require learning and memory.

In an experiment conducted by Missouri Western State College’s Psychological Department, participants listened to the sounds of mountain streams, rock music, or no sound while reading, then took reading comprehension and short-term memory tests. The study only found significance between students who did not normally listen to music while studying and those who did, with the latter scoring higher on average (Deems, 2009). This finding suggests that some students may be used to listening to music while reading or studying, and as a result, listening to music while reading does not affect them. The students who do not listen to music while studying at home, however, were distracted by the music. This finding also corroborates the findings of Jancke and Sandmann, who found that music has no effect on verbal learning (Jancke and Sandmann, 2010).

In a study published by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the effects of aircraft noise on reading comprehension were examined while at school and at home. The study found that the presence of aircraft noise during reading significantly reduced participants’ reading comprehension, both at home and at school (Clark, Martin, Kempen, Alfred, Head, Davies, Haines, Barrio, Matheson and Stansfeld, 2005). This finding would also seem to suggest that auditory distractions have a significant negative effect on students’ learning and memory.

Thus, there is evidence to suggest that auditory distraction while reading can reduce reading comprehension. After considering the background research, a one-tailed research hypothesis was formulated.

· H1 — There will be a significantly (p<.05) lower score on the reading comprehension test for the participants who listened to instrumental rap music while reading the passage as compared to those who read the passage without any music played.

· H0— There will be no significant relationship between the presence of instrumental rap music played while reading and a reading comprehension test score.

Method

Design

The effect of instrumental rap music on reading comprehension was examined between two independent samples. The independent variable was the presence or absence of instrumental rap music played while reading. The dependent variable was the score on a Junior-level English California State Standards Test (CST) © (available online) (Appendix D) reading comprehension test. It was a between subjects design to control for the history effect, a possible internal validity issue, because participants could score higher on the test simply because they would have seen it before. It would not be ethical to test the students’ performance during different conditions if the tests were going to count for a grade—thus, the reading comprehension test will not count in any way toward the students’ grades in any of their classes.Also, it would not be ethical to force participants to listen to music with inappropriate subject matter or coarse language, so instrumental rap music will be used in order to account for the possible content of the lyrics. A similar ethical issue would be forcing participants to read and test on a passage that has inappropriate content or that might be offensive in any way. To control for this, a reading comprehension passage and questions from a sample Junior-level English California State Standards Test (CST) © (available online) (Appendix D) that is approved for students to read will be used. It is unethical to use participants under the age of 16, so if any participants specify that they are under 16 on the brief survey, their data will be pulled from the rest and will not be used. Also, the researcher will need to obtain parental consent to use their children as participants, so the students and their parents will be required to fill out the consent forms before they can participate (Appendix F).

Participants:

The participants were a total of 17 juniors selected from two IB History HL year 1 classes taught by the same instructor, between the ages of 16 and 18 of both genders (n=6 female, 11 male), who attend high school in the rural Northwestern United States. The sample was predominantly Caucasian and native English speakers. It was an opportunity sample, because it is what the researcher and the instructor had available at the time. They will be two IB History HL year 1 classes to control for variation in academic levels. The target population was adolescent students, as the study was designed to test if instrumental rap music would affect the reading comprehension of students.

Materials:

• Laptop with instrumental rap music on it

• Standardized description of experiment (Appendix A)

• Standardized instructions (Appendix B)

• 17 copies of the reading passage (Appendix C)

• 17 copies of the reading comprehension test (Appendix D)

• 17 pencils

• 1 copy of the after-experiment survey for the experimental group (Appendix E)

• 17 copies of the consent forms (Appendix F)

• Debriefing notes (Appendix G)

• 17 juniors in an IB History year 1 class

Procedure:

1. Present the experiment in front of an ethics committee

2. Obtain permission from the instructor to use her classes on a specific date for a specific amount of time

3. Write consent forms, print 17 copies (Appendix F)

4. Number the consent forms, note which will be used for which groups

5. Obtain instrumental rap music (http://www.youtube.com/user/IBPsych?feature=mhee)

6. Obtain CST © sample passage and questions (Appendix C and D)

7. Write standardized description of experiment and instructions for the experiment (Appendix A and B)

9. Explain the experiment to the classes, using a minimal amount of deception allowable by the American Psychological Association code of ethics (Ethical Principles, 2010)

10. Explain their rights as participants to withdraw from the study at any time (Appendix A)

12. Pass out consent forms (Appendix F)

13. Come back to the classroom to collect consent forms

14. Give standardized instructions for the experiment (Appendix B)

15. Hand out the reading passage (Appendix C)

16. Have the students read the passage, while playing music (or not)

17. Turn off the music when all students have finished reading, collect the passages, hand out the reading comprehension test (Appendix D)

18. When all students have finished: for control group, collect the reading comprehension tests. For experimental group, read aloud the additional questions (Appendix E)

19. When all students have finished, collect the reading comprehension test, finish giving standardized instructions (Appendix B)

20. Come back later to debrief participants on findings (Appendix G)

Results

Descriptive:

The mean was the most appropriate measure of central tendency because the data for scores on the reading comprehension test was collected in a ratio form of measurement. The mean assumes that there is no significant difference between the groups, and it shows the statistical difference between the groups. A standard deviation was used to measure dispersion because it is the most appropriate for data that is normally distributed and a ratio or interval level of measurement. The standard deviation shows the average distance from the mean. The mean score received on the reading comprehension test of the group not exposed to instrumental rap music was 3.78 (SD=1.03) and the mean score of the group exposed to instrumental rap music was 3.38 (SD=1.22) (Appendix H). The frequency of listening to music while studying was interval and mean and standard deviation were used to describe the data.

Inferential:

A t-test for independent groups was used because data was in a ratio form of measurement, there were only two variables, and it is a more powerful test than an ANOVA. The Chi-Squared was not an appropriate test because the data was not frequency data. A one-tailed t-test comparing the scores received on the reading comprehension test demonstrated no significant difference between the group exposed to and not exposed to instrumental rap music at the p<.05 confidence level with 15 degrees of freedom. The critical value needed at the p<.05 level with 15 degrees of freedom is 1.753. The t-value was 0.697, so it did not meet the requirement for significance (Appendix H). The null hypothesis was accepted, which states that there will be no significant difference in the short term memory as measured by the score on a reading comprehension test between participants exposed to and not exposed to instrumental rap music while reading. Analysis of the relationship between the frequency of listening to music while studying and the score received on the reading comprehension test was also not significant. Between participants who answered ‘sometimes’ or ‘always’ when asked how frequently they listen to music while studying (sometimes=2; always=4), a t-value of 1.061 was received (Appendix H). At the p<.05 level and 6 degrees of freedom, the critical value needed was 1.943. Thus, the t-value received did not meet the requirement for significance at the p<.05 level of confidence.

Discussion

The results showed no significant difference in the scores on the reading comprehension test between participants who listened to instrumental rap music while reading and those who did not. The mean score received on the reading comprehension test of the group not exposed to instrumental rap music was 3.78 (SD=1.03) and the mean score of the group exposed to instrumental rap music was 3.38 (SD=1.22).

The findings were inconsistent with the existing body of research, especially the study done by Loyola University, which found that college students performed better on the memory test while listening to no music than while listening to classical (Hjortsberg, 2009). This may be due to differences in participants. High school students may listen to music while studying more than college students. It is possible that the participants were more used to listening to music while studying, which Deems (2009) and Jancke and Sandmann’s (2010) studies seem to suggest that these students would be less affected by auditory distractions (Deems, 2009) (Jancke and Sandmann, 2010).

An attempt to discover if this factor played a role was made, but a one-tailed t-test did not demonstrate significance between the scores of participants who answered ‘sometimes’ or ‘always’ when asked how often they listen to music while studying. Other limitations of this study could be that the participants may also have been able to figure out the purpose of the study, although no explanation of the music was given during the experiment. This may have affected participants’ concentration, as the Hawthorne effect may have caused participants to try harder to answer questions correctly if they thought they knew what the researcher wanted. The ecological validity of the experiment is weak, as the classroom setting did not accurately represent the environment in which a student would be studying or reading while listening to music. Participants’ ability in reading comprehension may also have varied, as they were taken from the same history class, not English class. The study was also performed at different times of the day for different participants[2], so this may have had an effect on the scores. It’s also possible that the specific kind of music used was easier for the students to ignore than other kinds, because they may be more accustomed to hearing music of this genre.

To modify this study, more participants and a longer test could be used to obtain more significant results. Various different types of music or auditory distractions may be used. It may also be investigated if music that has lyrics is more distracting than instrumental. For further research, other cognitive tasks investigating short term memory, such as a memorization task, could also be employed.

Conclusion:

While examining the effects of instrumental rap music on reading comprehension, no significant difference was found between the scores of those who listened to music and those who did not. Listening to music did not affect the short term memory, as measured by a reading comprehension test, of high school students. If this experiment were to be repeated, different types of music or auditory distractions or different types of cognitive tasks designed to test short term memory could be used. Participants in this study learned that the current generation may be more accustomed to listening to music while studying or multitasking than ever before. Educators should remain wary, however, of auditory distractions in the classroom, especially while reading or testing.

References

Clark, C., Martin, R., van Kempen­­, E., Alfred, T., Head, J., Davies, H. W., Haines, M. M., Barrio, I., Matheson, M., & Stansfeld, S. A. (2005). Exposure-Effect Relations Between Aircraft and Road Traffic Noise Exposure at School and Reading Comprehension. American Journal of Epidemiology, 163(1). Retrieved December 10, 2011, from OxfordJournals.org: http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/163/1/27.full.pdf+html

Deems, D. A. (2009). The Effects of Sound on Reading Comprehension and Short-Term Memory. Retrieved December 10, 2011, from National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse Site: http://clearinghouse.missouriwestern.edu/manuscripts/283.php

Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct: 2010 Amendments (2010, June 1). Retrieved December 14, 2011, from American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/index.aspx

Fogelson, S. (1973). Music as a Distractor on Reading-Test Performance of Eighth Grade Students. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 36(3C), 1265-1266. Retrieved December 19, 2011, from Ammons Scientific: http://www.amsciepub.com/doi/abs/10.2466/pms.1973.36.3c.1265

Hjortsberg, R. W. (2009). The Effects of Different Types of Music on Cognitive Processes. Retrieved December 10, 2011, from National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse Site: http://clearinghouse.missouriwestern.edu/manuscripts/303.php

Jancke, L., & Sandmann, P. (2010). Music Listening While You Learn: No Influence of Background Music on Verbal Learning. Behavioral and Brain Functions, 6(11). Retrieved December 19, 2011, from Behavioral and Brain Functions: http://www.behavioralandbrainfunctions.com/content/6/1/3




Appendix A

Standardized Information for Experiment

Hey guys, for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Jennifer Garner. I’m in IB Psych 2 and I’m doing an experiment on memory. I would really appreciate it if you guys would consent to be my participants. For those of you planning to take IB Psych 2 next year, this could be an especially valuable learning experience, although I promise that at the conclusion of my study, everyone will learn something, either about yourselves or about what could potentially go wrong when performing a psychology experiment to account for a lack of significant findings.

If you participate, I will be asking you to read a brief passage and then answer a few questions on it to see how much you remember of what you read. This test will not affect your grades at all. On your consent form there will be a brief questionnaire. The information you provide will be strictly kept confidential and solely used for the purpose of clarifying my findings. Your participation is strictly voluntary, and you may terminate your participation anonymously at any time during the study for any reason. You may withdraw your results anonymously at any time after the experiment is completed for any reason. The experiment should last approximately 20 minutes, and I will give you instructions along the way. When I have calculated my results, I will come back to your class and debrief you on my findings.

When I hand out the consent forms, there’s going to be an ID number in the top left hand corner of the page. I would strongly recommend that you write this number down somewhere, as you will be required to write this number on your test the day of the actual experiment. Also, I need these consent forms back by Monday, as that is when I will be performing the actual experiment.

I am now going to pass out consent forms to those of you who are interested in participating. Please return these with your parent’s signature as soon as possible. I will be returning periodically to collect them until the date of the experiment. Please raise your hand now if you are interested in participating.

Appendix B

Standardized Instructions

Before we begin, I want to briefly remind you of your rights as participants. Your participation is entirely voluntary, and you may terminate your participation anonymously at any time for any reason without penalty. You may withdraw your results anonymously at any time after the experiment for any reason without penalty.

I am first going to hand out a reading passage. You are to read the passage, and when you are done, turn the paper over so I know you are finished. When all participants have finished reading, I will collect the papers. If you finish early, please sit quietly and do not talk. If you have any questions, you may ask me after the experiment is over, but please do not talk during the experiment. If at any time during the experiment you no longer wish to participate, simply turn your paper over and sit quietly.

Pass out passages

(Experimental: Turn off the music)

Next I will pass out the reading comprehension questions. You are to write your ID number in the top left hand corner of the page. Answer the questions as best as you can. When you are done, please turn the paper over so I know you are finished.

Control: Do not worry about the additional questions at the bottom, as these do not apply to you. When all participants have finished, I will collect the papers.

Pass out the questions

Experimental: Now I will ask two further questions for you to answer below the questions already on your paper. These questions will constitute the final part of the questionnaire that you started on your consent form. Please simply write the answer that best applies to you as I read the answers aloud.

I’d like to thank everyone for participating. Remember that you have the right to withdraw your results from the study at any time using your ID number. When I have calculated my results, I will be back to debrief you on my findings.

2nd period: Please do not tell the students in the other class the details of the experiment.

And once again, thank you!

Appendix C

Eleanor Roosevelt Speaks to the Members of the American Civil

Liberties Union, Chicago, IL, March 14, 1940


Now I listened to the broadcast this afternoon with a great deal of interest. I almost forgot what a fight had been made to assure the rights of the working man. I know there was a time when hours were longer and wages lower, but I had forgotten just how long that fight for freedom, to bargain collectively, and to have freedom of assembly, had taken.

Sometimes, until some particular thing comes to your notice, you think something has been won for every working man, and then you come across, as I did the other day, a case where someone had taken the law into his own hands and beaten up a labor organizer. I didn’t think we did those things any more in this country, but it appears that we do. Therefore, someone must be always on the lookout to see that someone is ready to take up the cudgels to defend those who can’t defend themselves. That is the only way we are going to keep this country a law-abiding country, where law is looked upon with respect and where it is not considered necessary for anybody to take the law into his own hands. The minute you allow that, then you have acknowledged that you are no longer able to trust in your courts and in your law-enforcing machinery, and civil liberties are not very well off when anything like that happens; so I think that after listening to the broadcast today, I would like to remind you that behind all those who fight for the Constitution as it was written, for the rights of the weak and for the preservation of civil liberties, we have a long line of courageous people, which is something to be proud of and something to hold on to. Its only value lies, however, in the fact that we profit by example and continue the tradition in the future.

We must not let those people in back of us down; we must have courage; we must not succumb to fears of any kind; and we must live up to the things that we believe in and see that justice is done to the people under the Constitution, whether they belong to minority groups or not. This country is a united country in which all people have the same rights as citizens. We are grateful that we can trust in the youth of the nation that they are going on to uphold the real principles of democracy and put them into action in this country. They are going to make us an even more truly democratic nation.

Appendix D

Reading Comprehension Test

1. Roosevelt argues that citizens should not take the law into their own hands because:

A doing so leads to mob violence.

B enforcing the law is the government’s job.

C people should fight with words rather than

violence.

D people have to defend themselves rather than

depend on others.

2. In the middle of paragraph 2,Roosevelt implies that “you have acknowledged that you are no longer able to trust in your courts and in your law-enforcing machinery” when you allow individuals

A to speak and assemble freely.

B to organize as labor unions.

C to take the law into their own hands.

D to think that justice will always prevail.

3. The repetition of the word “fight” is used to support which central theme inRoosevelt’s speech?

A becoming a U.S. citizen

B protecting civil liberties

C looking out for foreign countries

D ensuring the division between church and state

4. Roosevelt’s reference to youth at the end of her speech is

An appeal to authority.

B a reassurance.

C a summary.

D an accusation.

5. The reader can infer from the speech that Roosevelt believes that the majority of

Americans are

A intimidated.

B law-abiding.

C violent.

D hardworking.

Additional Questions:

1.

2.

Appendix E

Additional Questions

Please write the answers down on your paper

1. Musical Preference (genre):

Rap/Hip Hop Rock Metal Pop Country Other

2. Do you normally listen to music while studying/doing homework?

Never Sometimes Usually Always


Appendix F

Consent Form

Fall 2011

ID #________ (memorize this number or write it down somewhere!!)

I consent to participate in this study that is designed to examine memory. I understand that my participation is voluntary and I may terminate my participation anonymously at any time without penalty. I understand that I may withdraw my results from the study at any time after its completion for any reason. I understand that I will be asked to read a brief passage and then answer some questions about the passage. I understand that attached is a brief questionnaire asking for some basic information, which will be confidential and strictly for clarifying findings. I have been told that the experiment will last approximately 20 minutes and that I will be given instructions along the way. By signing this consent form, I consent to participate in this experiment. I understand that if I have further questions about my participation, I may contact Jennifer Garner via the IB Psychology instructor Deborah Brown. I understand that I will be told about the benefits of this study at the conclusion of the study and I understand that this will be beneficial to my educational experience.

Student Name___________________________________

Parent Signature_________________________________

Date____________

Brief Questionnaire:


Age: 15 16 17 18

Gender: M F

Ethnicity: White African American Hispanic Asian Other

Is English your native language? Yes No

Appendix G

Debriefing Notes

· Explain control vs. experimental group (no music vs. with instrumental rap music)

· Hypothesis—rap music would disrupt reading ability and reading comprehension scores would be lower

· No significance in t-test

· Explanations? Adolescents multitask while listening to music more often these days, you are used to listening to music while reading/studying

· Too few questions

· Too few participants

· Type of music


[1] to simulate music which students might actually listen to while studying

[2] some in the morning and some after lunch

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