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Judge Miley Cyrus all you want, but a study claims listening to her music makes you smarter

While Miley Cyrus’ recent VMA performance still has you confused (and maybe excited… but mostly confused), here’s another mind-boggling bit of news about the singer. A recent study reportedly led by a British psychologist says the more you listen to her songs, the greater your tendency to exhibit intelligence and creativity becomes. Maybe there is something to “just bein’ Miley”…

Dr. Emma Gray of The British CBT and Counseling Service in London was commissioned by music streaming service Spotify to conduct the research and focus on what type of music benefits what topics of study. According to her findings, every subject has music that’s compatible with it, and that listening to the right kind can maximize focus and knowledge absorption.

Classical music – which has always been the typical study music genre of choice – has been found to be compatible with math, causing students to do 12 percent better on their exams. So if you have a trig quiz coming up, better load up on Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Tchaikovsky, and Mozart so your mind can be in the best state for serious brainstorming and problem solving.

Meanwhile, pop-rock songs like Katy Perry’s Firework have been found to produce a heightened sense of excitement and creativity that can be useful for subjects like English, drama, and art. Same can probably be true for inspirational anthems like Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger, Jessie J’s Domino, David Guetta’s Titanium, and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s Can’t Hold Us. What is it about popular rock music that makes it suitable for studying and how does it affect the brain? “It is important that the music is in the range of 50-80 beats per minute as this can help to induce the alpha state where the mind is calm but alert, imagination stimulated and concentration heightened, a state of mind that is thought to be the best for learning,” Gray explains to us. “Rock music in this range may stir emotions and stimulate the right side of the brain and because of its ideology of authenticity and originality it may help to generate an atmosphere suited to students studying creative subjects.”

And who would’ve thought that songs like Justin Timberlake’s Mirrors or Miley Cyrus’ We Can’t Stop can encourage logical thinking and remembering new information?  According to Gray, when studying subjects that require logical thinking and problem solving, it is better to choose songs that have a calming effect on the mind to aid concentration; for right-brain subjects, creativity is fostered more by tracks that reflect the feelings the student is trying to convey.

Is it advisable to stick with a certain genre for a single study session (all classical, all popular), or is mixing genres better or okay? Gray tells us that music genre is the least important part of the equation – the number of beats per minute is the major component, as it has the most to do with inducing the proper brain state for focus. “Concentration is not limitless so it is important that the music does not divert the listener’s attention away from the task but focuses towards it, so music with no lyrics or familiar lyrics is always preferable and music should always be played in the ‘background’,” says Gray. “What diverts our attention is specific to the listener and depends on particular interests, likes, and dislikes.” 


Gray suggests that when studying subjects that require logical thought and problem solving (like math, science and languages), a listener will be more responsive to learning factual information with classical, ambient, and jazz music because these genres keep emotions at bay. When studying subjects that require creativity, original thought, and ingenuity (like  art, media, fashion and drama), punk, rock, pop, and dance are genres that are most likely to enhance learning and performance.


Spotify’s goal in doing this study, according to a spokesperson, was to examine the tracks that were beneficial when studying various subjects and decipher whether a certain genre or rhythm could be better for a specific subject or discipline. So for your next study session, consider giving Miley’s music the good ol’ college try and see if your grades improve. With guidance from Gray, Spotify assembled a special set of playlists that are geared toward students looking for suitable study music.

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