Work culture has changed dramatically over time and one of the most obvious aspects is the noise that can be heard within the modern office. Walk into a Startup these days and you’ll experience a hive of sound, activity and music. It kind of makes sense because employers want to create fun and interesting environments where their staff will be happy, comfortable and engaged. But does music help us concentrate better or does it just distract us?

Well, it depends who you ask and what type of music you’re listening to. And maybe this is why headphones are also such a common tool for work and study these days. Personally, when I’m concentrating on work, I like to listen to lo-fi instrumental and hip-hop beats (essentially, music without lyrics). Other people I know listen to nature sounds, like raindrops falling on a tin roof or sounds of the forest. Lots of famous authors listened to classical while they wrote. And I have a friend who listens to doom metal while studying.

There’s a company called Focus@Will who claim that they’ve got concentration music nailed down to a science. Specifically, they claim to have made, “Scientifically engineered music [that is] proven to increase focus and reduce distractions.” And they boast 50 different channels for different personality types and mental conditions (there’s even a channel for those with ADHD, called “ADHD Type 1”).

How Does it Work?

The idea is that the music should put you in a “flow state”, which is a state of mind where you ignore distractions and forget about time. Interestingly, Focus@Will claims that the best music for concentration contains no lyrics and doesn’t connect the listener to a particular memory or sentiment. According to the research, it’s best to listen to music that you neither like nor dislike – the stuff that will invoke a feeling or emotion is more likely to distract you.

Is it Scientifically Proven?

Well, it’s pretty difficult to draw absolute conclusions on something so subjective. This is partly because there are so many other factors at play, including personality type, the type of work you’re doing, personal preferences and the mood the music induces. A Wired article from 2014 highlights a bunch of reasons to be sceptical of Focus@Will’s claims, including the researchers’ authority, the diversity of tasks that you might be working on and the idea that music can actually detract from concentration, rather than help with it. And of course, Focus@Will reckon their science is solid. So there are conflicting studies.

Does it Matter?

I’m not belittling the importance of science, trial and error seems to be a the logical approach to this one. Try listening to a bunch of different music while studying and see what works for you. Personally, I don’t like the idea of listening to music that I neither like nor dislike in order to concentrate better. I’d prefer the happy medium of good beats without lyrics. While words tend to distract me, I want to enjoy what I’m listening to.

You do you, bae.