Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

The Effects of Music on Athletic Performance

gflaherty's picture
In the age of technological gadgets, music has become more than just background noise at a party.  Mp3 players and music downloading sites such as iTunes have made music a part of people’s everyday routine.  For some, music has become a vice.

            For those that exercise, music is a way to distract oneself from the physical activity they are enduring and to try to lessen their consciousness of fatigue.  However recent studies have seen that music has a much greater effect than just providing a distraction. Studies conducted by sports psychologists have determined that music has a great impact on the performance level of an athlete. It has been suggested that the correct type of music can heighten an athlete’s performance by up to twenty percent [1].  A sports psychologist at Brunel University, Dr. Costas Karageorghis, has done studies to see the results of synchronous music and asynchronous music.  Synchronous music, music that has a clear and steady beat, was what was shown to elevate a person’s performance by twenty percent whereas asynchronous music, background music, was shown to calm the nerves of athletes by as much as ten percent [1].

            This same psychologist theorizes that there are four main components to the effectsof music on an athlete. First that music can distract an athlete from fatigue,second that music can act as a mood altering catalyst, third music can synchronize an athlete’s rhythm and movement and finally music can act as a trigger for learning certain motions and aid with muscle memory [1].   From the evidence provided there seems to be a correlation between music and performance, but what is really happening?

            A study done to investigate the psychological effects of music on performance was done at Milligan College in Tennessee. To set up the experiment, the term ‘priming’ must first be introduced.

“By priming participants with particular instructions prior to the experiment, a researcher can actually heighten the likelihood that thoughts with much the same meaning as the stimulus will come to mind…When participants are told that a stimulus will affect them in some way, they will in fact behave accordingly. This priming is particularly effective with regards to physical exercise performance” [2]

Priming is the perfect way to test the effects of music on athletes.  By pre-conditioning the study subjects to certain expectations and attitudes, the raw effects of music can be measured.

            For this experiment, ninety-one college students were invited to run several laps while listening to music for a certain duration [2].  The ninety-one students were divided into three groups[2].  Members of Group A (n=25)were told that music would heighten their athletic performance immensely[2].  Participants of Group B(n=19) were told that music would greatly diminish their ability to perform well [2].  And those in Group C(n=47), the control, were not given any information on the impact that music would have on their performance [2]. The results were fairly significant and demonstrated that preconceived notions on the effects music are key to actually seeing positive effects from music during athletic performance.

            The effectiveness of the music was analyzed by measuring the mean number of laps each group was able to complete in the given time.   For Group A, the group that was told music would enhance their performance, the mean number of laps completed was 6.38 [2].  Group B, that was told the music would negatively impact their performance, the mean number of laps was 4.97 [2].  And Group C, given no information, had a mean number of 5.55 laps [2]. The most interesting and significant part of this study was the fact that two groups, A and B, both listed to music, were told completely different information and performed very differently.  This demonstrates that it is not the music that is changing the level of athletic performance achieved but it is that knowledge that an outside force might have the ability to change one’s performance level that actually made an impact. 

            This is a clear indication of the power that the brain has on affecting a person’s physical self.  Similar to the sugar pill, the impact that music can have on a person is a preconceived notion; music itself does not have the power to induce athletic prowess.






Satomi's picture


Wow! This essay is written really good! I really enjoyed reading it.

Stephen's picture

music and athletic performance

I think there are many people that think of music as a possible emotional drug which enhances performance. Puts them in a good mood. Also distracts them from being distracted. That's cool. But that is hard to prove scientifically. Lot's of variables there. I would propose that sound frequencies and/or music is an integral aspect of the brain's organizational system. This is what my research can confirm anyway.

Stephen's picture

I'm feeling that nobody

I'm feeling that nobody listens to anything said on this site. I see no movement whatsoever. Very sad as there is much to be said.




Stephen's picture

Listening to music means to

Listening to music means to create a condition that best makes it possible for us to recreate that music. When we listen to music, it alters our respiratory system. As the respiratory system is physically connected to our physicality, it necessarily alters the qualities of performance. There are four basic breathing patterns that come with many variables. Athletes usually perform within one of four style modes. While the investigation of music's impact on athletic performance is interesting, it is also complicated. In my opinion, it won't be helpful to arbitrarily choose music and then see if it enhances performance.

Stephen's picture

music and performance

Human performance is guided by a unary numeral system in the brain (similar to the binary system with computers.) The numbers of this unary system are further organized by sound frequencies (twelve tones from the music chromatic scale). Each number contains the information that determines the proper technique for any type of physical performance. Just my opinion.

Stephen's picture

Effects of music on athletic performance

One might consider experimenting with one musical tone (from the twelve tone chromatic scale) at a time. This certainly changes my performance in a number of very clear ways. Music also changes my performance. But for some, this research is just beginning. So I would say to those people, don't think only in terms of enhancing or detracting. The answer is much more interesting than that. The effects include the physiological underpinnings of human movement. In my opinion, the physiological is 100 times more important than anything you can find from bio-mechanical research.

Gabe's picture

Science fair project

This helps me on my science fair project so much I also used it in my reacerch

Grace's picture

Science Fair Project

This was also very useful for me to use toward research on my Science Fair Project. I am researching whether or not music has an impact on one's overall athletic performance.

gabe05's picture

Science Fair

helped me a lot on my research for my science fair project. THX!

Carlie Antonia Feldenkirchen's picture

ME too

I did this too. It helped me a lot! I did can music give you energy for Science fair. This is a great resource

Serendip Visitor's picture

Science Stuff and Stuff

cool beans

S4M4N7H4's picture


this is gooooooooooooood for science project, works quick & gets done in a day or two.

Bob Barkley's picture

I think that the inquisation

I think that the inquisation of this perpetuating project has inspired me to listen to the good beats of the soul while i participate in practicing my athletic talents.

Serendip Visitor's picture

Who is this paper by? Also,

Who is this paper by? Also, when was it published? I would also like to know the author.

Daniel Fahim's picture

Your answer

Submitted by gflaherty on Fri, 05/09/2008 - 12:33pm

Serendip Visitor's picture

Many people work better with

Many people work better with music and it does allow them to work faster and more efficient. If the experiment was done with groups of people that all knew what they were doing, and maybe used a non-music group as the control with another group listening to upbeat music (manipukated variable), then i would come to a steady conclusion

Paul Grobstein's picture

music, performance, and preconceptions

Interesting twist. That preconceptions influence our behavior doesn't of course show that music doesn't ALSO do so directly.