The Effects of Music on Reaction Time in Human Beings

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 22 October 2016

The Effects of Music on Reaction Time in Human Beings

When performing many feats of physical skill, calculating how fast a person can perform the action has become a custom that has gained prominence in recent years. Observing how long it takes a person to perform an action, now known as observing the reaction time, has even gained enough importance to the point that it has even used in some scientific investigations. The purpose of this scientific investigation, for instance, is to test whether or not an outside force, such as music, will affect the reaction time of any given test subject. Whether the change will be a positive one, such as helping the test subject(s) complete the task faster, thereby improving the reaction time, or a negative one, which will distract in the test subject(s) in some form or fashion, reducing the reaction time, will be documented. The hypothesis generated for the experiment is that the music will not only affect the reaction times of the test subjects, but it will also improve the test subjects’ individual reaction times by energizing them through a type of placebo effect, as well as giving the test subjects more motivation to complete the task in a more time efficient manner.

Terms that are relevant to this scientific investigation are reaction time, music, placebo, mental chronometry, and stimulus. The reaction time can be defined as the amount of time taken to respond to some type of external stimuli. Reaction time can be defined into one of three categories: simple reaction time, recognition reaction time (also known as discrimination reaction time), and choice reaction time. ‘Simple reaction time’ is when only one stimulus and one response are present. ‘Recognition reaction time’ is when, during an experiment, there are certain symbols present that are meant to be responded to and other symbols that are meant to be ignored, in short, allowing for only one correct stimulus and response. ‘Choice reaction time’ is an experiment that contains multiple stimuli and multiple responses, in which the reaction must correspond to the correct stimulus. (Reaction Times) Mental chronometry, a form of reaction times, is the use of response or reaction time in “perceptual-motor tasks to infer the content, duration, and temporal sequencing of cognitive operations” (Mental Chronometry).

A stimulus is something that incites or induces a specific action or reaction or quickens the response of an organism (Stimulus). Music can be defined as “an art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions in significant forms through the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, and color” (Music). A placebo, also known as the placebo effect, is the measured, observed, or the felt improvement of the health of a person and that cannot be attributed to effect of some form of medicine or some type of invasive treatment that has been administered (Carroll). “A placebo (Latin for “I shall please”) is a pharmacologically inert substance (such as saline solution or a starch tablet) that seems to produce an effect similar to what would be expected of a pharmacologically active substance (such as an antibiotic)” (Carroll).

Mental chronometry has become an integral part of experimental and cognitive psychology (Mental Chronometry). As cognitive psychology and human processing in general began to evolve into its modern day counterpart from the middle of the nineteenth century, experimental psychologists have become to focus upon the dynamics of cognition and action (David E. Meyer). Mental chronometry was first developed in the early reaction time experiments of Franciscus Donders (1869). In his experiments, Donders separated for analyzing cognitive activity into three separate stages: the simple reaction time stage, recognition or discrimination reaction time stage, and the choice reaction time stage. He then predicted the types of processes that may be used in each task and how long each task may take, as well as creating a subtraction method relevant to studying mental process; Donders eventually comes to the conclusion that the simple reaction time types take the shortest amount of time while the choice reaction time types take the longest amount of time.

Donders’ experiment with mental chronometry eventually became more developed during the middle twentieth century. In 1978, Michael Posner had an experiment in which he used “used a series of letter-matching studies to measure the mental processing time of several tasks associated with recognition of a pair of letters”. Posner had performed many tests, after which he used the subtraction method in order “to determine the approximate amount of time that it took for subjects to perform each of the cognitive processes associated with each of [the] tasks”. Mental chronometry also had a huge effect on hierarchal network models, as they became largely discarded after some findings related to mental chronometry. In years to come, with the invention of neuroimaging techniques such as the functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and the Positron Emission Tomograhpy (PET), psychologists began to modify their mental chronometry paradigms for functioning imaging.

The development of technology made the study of mental chronometry more popular, in which mental chronometry was used in “by performing tasks based on reaction time which measures through neuroimaging the parts of the brain which are involved in the cognitive processes.” Mental chronometry is now being used in many forms of research and is being connected to studies concerning the cognitions of many people. In the 1950s and 1960s, using the technology of the time, researchers were able to use electrical potentials to study reaction times in human beings, with the results showing a type of connection “between the observed electrical potentials with motor and sensory stages for information processing.”

With the development of neuroimaging technology in the 1980s, PETs were able to detect which area of the brain was active during experiments that used mental chronometry by injecting people with radionuclides. The fMRI was also used to detect the precise brain areas that were active during mental chronometry tasks, showing that there are a small amount of brain areas that spread out which are active in performing mental chronometry tests (Mental Chronometry)

Experiments concerning the effects of music on reaction times have been conducted in the past. Although the experiments were not done in the same frequency as this experiment (different types of music, different tasks), they are useful in displaying how music and, quite possibly, other external stimuli can positively influence a person’s reaction time. In an experiment done by researchers Maja Meško, Vojko Strojnik, Mateja Videmšek, and Damir Karpljuk in February 2009 showcased this point. The purpose of the experiment was to display the effects of music on reaction time, in this particular case, the effects of techno music on the reaction times of participants exposed to visual stimuli.

Their hypothesis, that listening to techno music would shorten reaction time, was later validated by their experiment, as the results demonstrated the effects of shortened reaction times. The research, however, also stated that significant results were displayed after some time had passed after the participants were done listening to music, not while the participants actually were listening to music. The results demonstrated that after thirty minutes of listening to techno music, after a forty-five second break, the music began to affect the reaction time of the participants. (Maja Meško) These results, while not exactly conclusive towards the aim of this experiment, demonstrate that music does in fact help shorten the reaction time of individuals.

Reaction time is tested in experiments that measure mental chronometry. The history of testing reaction time, or mental chronometry, in modern times, began in the middle of the nineteenth century, the early experiments of Franciscus Donders in 1869. Mental chronometry gained more prominence in the middle of the twentieth century, with the development of new technology and new methods of studying mental chronometry. Since then, experiments dealing with mental chronometry or reaction times have become more popular, with mental chronometry even revolutionizing modern psychology.

Music, along with other forms of external stimuli, have displayed crucial evidence in affecting the reaction times of individuals, although this is not always in the same manner; music has been proven to both increase and reduce the reaction times of many different people. In relation towards this experiment, the hypothesis is that music will not only affect reaction time, but it will reduce it as well. Given the amount of evidence collected, it is believed that the hypothesis is not only a valid one, but also one that will come to be demonstrated as true in this experiment.

•Carroll, Robert T. Placebo Effect. 6 July 2012. 9 December 2012. •David E. Meyer, Allen M. Osman, David E. Irwin, Steven Yantis. Modern Mental Chronometry. 1988. 9 December 2012. •Maja Meško, Vojko Strojnik, Mateja Videmšek, Damir Karpljuk. The
Effect of Listening to Techno Music on Reaction Times to Visual Stimuli. February 2009. 9 December 2012. •Mental Chronometry. 2012. 9 December 2012. •Music. 2012. 9 December 2012. •Reaction Times. n.d. 8 December 2012. •Stimulus. 2012. 9 December 2012.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 22 October 2016

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