Rock On, Gold Dust Woman: Listening To Music Isn't A Distraction In The Car

June 21, 2013

Nowadays, there's plenty of stuff to distract drivers from the task at hand. Cell phones. Bluetooth headsets. Kids

But you know what's not a distraction? You know what's hunky-dory? You know what might actually boost concentration in the car? Music. 

That's according to Ayca Berfu Unal, an environmental and traffic psychologist in Holland. She led a study at the University of Groningen to examine the effect of music on drivers' concentration.

To accomplish that task, she recruited 47 students from the university, ranging in age from 19 to 25. All had driver's licences, and on average, participants had over two-and-a-half years of driving experience. 

Unal asked students to create music playlists, then placed them in a driving simulator. Each participant was tested three times: first, with the music very loud; second, with the music at a moderate volume; and third, with no music at all. 

During those tests, Unal kept an eye on their heart rates. She also asked them to assess their own energy levels: were they bored? Sleepy? Energized? 

When all the tests were done, Unal discovered that music had no adverse effect on the participants' driving ability, whether that music was played loudly, softly, or not at all. In fact, those listening to music as they drove reacted more quickly to traffic conditions in the simulator than those not listening to music.

And here's the real shocker: drivers' responses were quickest when the music was at its loudest. That might be because participants reported being more energized when the music was blaring.


As interesting as all that seems, there are several problems with Unal's study:

  • For starters, the sample size was small. Forty-seven participants was enough to provide proof-of-concept, but to generate more accurate results, Unal would need to recruit more test subjects.
  • The sample group was also narrow, focused solely on young adults. Older drivers might respond very differently to loud music. 
  • Also, Unal's study was conducted in a driving simulator. Real-world conditions could yield significantly different results.
  • To our knowledge, Unal's study hasn't been peer-reviewed, which would give it crucial authoritative weight. 
  • The study focused only on listening to music. Singing, headbanging, or doing any of the other things we often do while jamming out in the car could completely negate any of music's beneficial effects. 

Unal is aware of all these concerns and hopes to conduct follow-up research in the future. Her initial findings, though, are awfully encouraging for those who like to rock out on the road. 

[via WebMD]


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