, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp 277-289
Date: 16 Oct 2008

The Relative and Perceived Impact of Irrelevant Speech, Vocal Music and Non-vocal Music on Working Memory

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The ability to retain and manipulate information for brief periods of time is crucial for proficient cognitive functioning but working memory (WM) is susceptible to disruption by irrelevant speech. Music may also be detrimental, but its impact on WM is not clear. This study assessed the effects of vocal music, equivalent instrumental music, and irrelevant speech on WM in order to clarify what aspect of music affects performance and the degree of impairment. To study this, 60 college students completed WM tests (digit span) in the presence of irrelevant speech, vocal music, instrumental (karaoke) versions of the vocal music, and silence. As expected, both speech and vocal music degraded performance. WM performance with instrumental music was better than with vocal music but not significantly different from either silence or speech. Familiarity with song lyrics had little effect on performance. People were poor judges of the degree of memory impairment resulting from various irrelevant sounds.

This study was reviewed and approved by the Clemson University Institutional Review Board.