Auditory distractions and productivity

I’ve been thinking of the effect of music, background noise or periodic sound events might have on a persons ability to learn and be productive and creative. I’ve long felt that music or sound helps with known repetitive tasks but what effects on short term or long term memory? Another question, are purposely created sound effects an aid in concentration? Some software features background sounds as an aid to concentration, is this effective? And if it is are some sounds better than others (ticking clock, nature etc).

Some reading.

A comparison of auditory and visual distraction effects: behavioral and event-related indices

Infrequent task-irrelevant deviations in the frequency of a tone may distract our attention away from the processing of task-relevant tone duration. The distraction obtained in the auditory paradigm is reflected in prolonged reaction times in duration discrimination and in P3a. The P3a is followed by a late negative component, which may be related to a re-orienting process following distraction (RON, re-orienting negativity). The present study aimed at comparing effects of the auditory and a corresponding visual distraction paradigm. Distraction elicited a deviance-related negativity which revealed a modality-specific distribution. It was followed by P3a (350-ms post-stimulus) and by RON (500-ms post-stimulus). RON did not occur with long-duration visual stimuli indicating a difference in visual and auditory distraction. Moreover, the results suggest that in both tasks irrelevant deviants were detected by modality-specific processes which caused an attention shift.

Can preference for background music mediate the irrelevant sound effect?

Research suggests that listening to background music prior to task performance increases cognitive processes, such as attention and memory, through the mechanism of increasing arousal and positive mood. However, music preference has not been explored with regard to a more common and realistic scenario of concurrent music and cognition, namely the ‘irrelevant sound effect’ (ISE). To examine this, serial recall was tested under quiet, liked and disliked music sound conditions as well as steady-state (repetition of ‘3’) and changing-state speech (random digits 1–9). Results revealed performance to be poorer for both music conditions and the changing-state speech compared to quiet and steady-state speech conditions. The lack of difference between both music conditions suggests that preference does not affect serial recall performance. These findings are discussed within the music and cognition and auditory distraction literatures.

Effects of Music on Cardiovascular Reactivity Among Surgeons

Objective. —To determine the effects of surgeon-selected and experimenter-selected music on performance and autonomic responses of surgeons during a standard laboratory psychological stressor.

Design. —Within-subjects laboratory experiment.

Setting. —Hospital psychophysiology laboratory.

Participants. —A total of 50 male surgeons aged 31 to 61 years, who reported that they typically listen to music during surgery, volunteered for the study.

Main Outcome Measurements. —Cardiac responses, hemodynamic measures, electrodermal autonomic responses, task speed, and accuracy.

Results. —Autonomic reactivity for all physiological measures was significantly less in the surgeon-selected music condition than in the experimenter-selected music condition, which in turn was significantly less than in the no-music control condition. Likewise, speed and accuracy of task performance were significantly better in the surgeon-selected music condition than in the experimenter-selected music condition, which was also significantly better than the no-music control condition.

Conclusion. —Surgeon-selected music was associated with reduced autonomic reactivity and improved performance of a stressful nonsurgical laboratory task in study participants.(JAMA. 1994;272:882-884)

Auditory distraction from low-intensity noise: a review of the consequences for learning and workplace environments

The ‘irrelevant sound effect’ in short-term memory is commonly believed to entail a number of direct consequences for cognitive performance in the office and other workplaces (e.g. S. P. Banbury, S. Tremblay, W. J. Macken, & D. M. Jones, 2001). It may also help to identify what types of sound are most suitable as auditory warning signals. However, the conclusions drawn are based primarily upon evidence from a single task (serial recall) and a single population (young adults). This evidence is reconsidered from the standpoint of different worker populations confronted with common workplace tasks and auditory environments. Recommendations are put forward for factors to be considered when assessing the impact of auditory distraction in the workplace.

A simulator study of the effects of singing on driving performance

This study aimed to investigate how singing while driving affects driver performance. Twenty-one participants completed three trials of a simulated drive concurrently while performing a peripheral detection task (PDT); each trial was conducted either without music, with participants listening to music, or with participants singing along to music. It was hypothesised that driving performance and PDT response times would be impaired, and that driver subjective workload ratings would be higher, when participants were singing to music compared to when there was no music or when participants were listening to music. As expected, singing while driving was rated as more mentally demanding, and resulted in slower and more variable speeds, than driving without music. Listening to music was associated with the slowest speeds overall, and fewer lane excursions than the no music condition. Interestingly, both music conditions were associated with slower speed-adjusted PDT response times and significantly less deviation within the lane than was driving without music. Collectively, results suggest that singing while driving alters driving performance and impairs hazard perception while at the same time increasing subjective mental workload. However, singing while driving does not appear to affect driving performance more than simply listening to music. Further, drivers’ efforts to compensate for the increased mental workload associated with singing and listening to music by slowing down appear to be insufficient, as evidenced by relative increases in PDT response times in these two conditions compared to baseline.

The following has a nice summary of some of the answers I am looking for.

Stress and open-office noise

Forty female clerical workers were randomly assigned to a control condition or to 3-hr exposure to low-intensity noise designed to simulate typical open-office noise levels. The simulated open-office noise elevated workers’ urinary epinephrine levels, but not their norepinephrine or cortisol levels, and it produced behavioral aftereffects (fewer attempts at unsolvable puzzles) indicative of motivational deficits. Participants were also less likely to make ergonomic, postural adjustments in their computer work station while working under noisy, relative to quiet, conditions. Postural invariance is a risk factor for musculoskeletal disorder. Although participants in the noise condition perceived their work setting as significantly noisier than those working under quiet conditions did, the groups did not differ in perceived stress. Potential health consequences of long-term exposure to low-intensity office noise are discussed.

Look around any open-plan office today (especially one full of younger employees) and you’ll see that many workers deal with this problem by wearing ear buds or headphones. Although it might seem that importing one’s own noise wouldn’t be much of a solution, experts say that this approach could be effective on at least one dimension. Part of the reason office noise reduces our motivation is that it’s a factor out of our control, so the act of asserting control over our aural environment may lead us to try harder at our jobs. But does having a constant soundtrack to your day also distract you from the task at hand? That depends on the task. Research shows that under some conditions, music actually improves our performance, while in other situations music makes it worse—sometimes dangerously so.Via


Ritot Smartwatch

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Ritot is a smartwatch that projects the time of day, and when connected to your phone, notifications onto the back of your hand. So far I haven’t seen any product from this category that would convince to wear a watch again, but to my eyes this device at least looks attractive.

If you carry an iPhone with you everywhere what purpose does a wearable hold that isn’t already covered by an app.?


Words on screens are not substitutes for words on paper

The differences between page and screen go beyond the simple tactile pleasures of good paper stock. To the human mind, a sequence of pages bound together into a physical object is very different from a flat screen that displays only a single “page” of information at a time. The physical presence of the printed pages, and the ability to flip back and forth through them, turns out to be important to the mind’s ability to navigate written works, particularly lengthy and complicated ones. We quickly develop a mental map of the contents of a printed text, as if its argument or story were a voyage unfolding through space. If you’ve ever picked up a book that you read long ago and discovered that your hands were able to locate a particular passage quickly, you’ve experienced this phenomenon. When we hold a physical publication in our hands, we also hold its contents in our mind.

The spatial memories seem to translate into more immersive reading and stronger comprehension. A recent experiment conducted with young readers in Norway found that, with both expository and narrative works, people who read from a printed page understand a text better than those who read the same material on a screen. The findings are consistent with a series of other studies on the process of reading. “We know from empirical and theoretical research that having a good spatial mental representation of the physical layout of the text supports reading comprehension,” wrote the Norwegian researchers1. They suggested that the ability of print readers to “see as well as tactilely feel the spatial extension and physical dimensions” of an entire text likely played a role in their superior comprehension.

Paper Versus Pixel. The science of reading shows that print and digital experiences are complementary.


Link Love: What I’m reading

Nice latté but underwhelming compared to Hsinchu's excellent Ink Café.

Nice latté but underwhelming compared to Hsinchu’s excellent Ink Café.

After 3 months of fairly intense training I finished my first two races while I was vacationing home in Canada. It wasn’t a pain-free experience but my goals were to finish, not stop, and not be too concerned with pace, at least not at this stage. With my age, and as a beginner runner, I always had in the back of my mind that if I gave too much, especially with the heat we experience in Taiwan, I might suffer a heart attack. At the end of each training session and each race I always had more to give; the training went so well that I thought that I finally found my competitive sport. That is, until just the day before I had to board the longest flight I had been on in years, that stiffness in my back turned into full blown pain, like I was being stabbed, I couldn’t sit or walk, I had killed my back. What a pleasant series of flights it was going to be. Without painkillers I would never have made it through the flight experience, nor the ridiculous long walks they force you to endure in modern airports. Thus far lack of proper stretching appears to be the culprit.

A Dynamic Routine. Stretch safely—before you run.
Warm Up While You Lace Up. Get those muscles ready to go while you prepare for a run.
The 5 Top Stretches to Minimize Back Pain.
Banish Back Pain. How to Bounce Back from Back Injuries.
Stretching for Back Pain Relief
Best Post-Race Standing Stretches. Jump-start recovery with five simple moves.
Low Back. Wharton’s Simple Solution No. 4.

Running 5 Minutes a Day Has Long-Lasting Benefits.

How the Paleolithic Diet Got Trendy.

The Gangster’s Guide to Upward Mobility

23 defining traits of a good teacher.

Why You Won’t Learn Like a Child. “Have you ever hung out with a crazy friend who will go up to any stranger and say anything, seemingly without inhibitions? It’s awkward but also awe-inspiring, because it opens your eyes to how much your own inhibitions prevent you from doing and experiencing.”

John Oliver goes off on native advertising. Always excellent.

MUJI app that helps you relax/sleep. It’s not great but better than many.

Possibly the best place to buy pancakes anywhere.


“One of the easiest things to do is to realize that maybe it’s your distractions, not your goals, that are the problem,” said Steel. “So you make the distractions harder to get to. Make them less obvious.”
Getting Over Procrastination


Gofor: Drones on Demand

Gofor provides drones on demand. Using the mobile app, you can task a drone to complete a variety of helpful tasks. Drones are summoned much like taxis in other popular service apps. Your desired task is either noted at the outset using presets, or customized using voice commands.

Just a concept, or a well produced gag, but an interesting look into what the future could hold.