A popular high school science project involves measuring music's effect on a person's concentration. Generally, this involves asking people to perform some sort of mental task while listening to music. With the right preparation, this topic makes for an interesting and easy science project with results that are applicable to real life.
The Basic Experiment
An experiment like this can ask many different questions, the most basic being whether music has an effect on concentration. In this experiment, you would ask two groups of people to complete some sort of concentration task, one group while listening to music and one in silence. However, this experiment is problematic because of the difficulty in narrowing down which type of music to use. A more common experiment asks whether different types of music have different effects on concentration. In this experiment, several groups complete the task, each listening to a different style of music, such as:
- heavy metal
The control group will not listen to any music.
Types of Music
When testing different types of music for their effects on concentration, you want the musical genres to be as different as possible. It is commonly believed that classical music is naturally relaxing and good for the brain. Many experimenters test this assumption by including classical music as one of the genres in an experiment. In contrast, many people find heavy metal or hard rock music irritating and difficult to listen to, so it also makes for a good tester. You also can include more neutral genres like jazz or pop. There's no limit on the number of musical genres to use, but try to keep it between three and five to make it easier to test. Finally, choose one song for each genre, aiming to have each song about the same length. These are the songs people will listen to for the experiment.
In this experiment of testing the effects of different types of music on concentration, you will ask people to perform a specific concentration task while listening to a certain kind of music. The concentration task is a constant in your experiment, which means everyone should complete the same one. This task can vary based on who you'll be using in the experiment. For an easier task, ask people to complete a word search. For an intermediate task, you can find a memory game online. This involves showing someone a page with many pictures or words on it, and after a certain amount of time, taking the page away and asking them to recall as many pictures or words as they can. Finally, for a challenging concentration task, give people a short passage to read and ask them to answer comprehension questions about it.
Conducting the Experiment
Once you have chosen your music and your task, conducting the experiment is easy. Randomly assign each person to a type of music so that you have the same number of people listening to each type. Allow each person the same amount of time to complete the task. Some people may not be able to finish the entire song, while others may have to start the song over again to fill in the remaining time. This is why it's important for songs to be about the same length. In the experiment itself, give each person headphones plugged into the source of music, play the music and time them as they complete the task. Remember to include a control group who doesn't listen to music.
Analyzing the Results
If you had enough variety in your music choices, your results should show patterns. Calculate every person's score on the concentration task, noting which music each person was listening to when they took it. Next, calculate the range of scores and the average score for each musical genre. For a more accurate, statistically sound measurement, calculate an Analysis of Variance, or ANOVA, for the results. When you group the scores by musical genre, you will see which group scored highest and lowest. From there, you can speculate about how the genre of music influenced each person's score, keeping in mind that correlation does not imply causation.
Keep as many variables constant as you can. This means the people in your experiment should be similar ages with similar levels of education. However, to ensure diverse results, your groups should include equal numbers of boys and girls, people of different races and people who like different types of music. Remember to get each individual person's consent before the experiment. Depending on your school's rules, this may involve separate paperwork.
About the Author
Camille Beredjick is a recent graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University working in the nonprofit sector. She is the sole writer and manager of GayWrites, an LGBT news blog.
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