This shows a person listening to music.
Also, findings present the overall better performance of participants within the exciting background music. Credit: Neuroscience News.

The Power of Music on Cognitive Arousal

Summary: A new study explores the influence of personalized music on cognitive arousal and performance, drawing on the Yerkes-Dodson law’s inverted-U theory. The study used participants’ physiological and behavioral signals to map arousal levels against performance, revealing that music can significantly affect one’s productivity by aligning arousal to an optimal level.

Exciting music, in particular, was found to enhance performance, demonstrating the potential of music as a simple, everyday tool to regulate cognitive states. This research opens the door to personalized brain-computer interfaces that adjust arousal for improved cognitive functioning in daily tasks.

Key Facts:

  1. The study validates the Yerkes-Dodson law by showing an inverted-U relationship between cognitive arousal and performance, with optimal outcomes achieved at moderate arousal levels.
  2. Participants exposed to exciting music performed better, highlighting music’s capacity to elevate arousal to a beneficial state.
  3. The research introduces a performance-based arousal decoder, offering insights into tailoring interventions like music to individual cognitive and physiological profiles for enhanced productivity.

Source: NYU

Human brain states are unobserved states that can constantly change due to internal and external factors, including cognitive arousal, a.k.a. intensity of emotion, and cognitive performance states.

Maintaining a proper level of cognitive arousal may result in being more productive throughout daily cognitive activities. Therefore, monitoring and regulating one’s arousal state based on cognitive performance via simple everyday interventions such as music is a critical topic to be investigated.

Researchers from NYU Tandon led by Rose Faghih—inspired by the Yerkes-Dodson law in psychology, known as the inverted-U law—investigated the arousal-performance link throughout a cognitive task in the presence of personalized music.

The research is published in the IEEE Open Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology.

The Yerkes-Dodson law states that performance is a function of arousal and has an inverted-U shaped relationship with cognitive arousal, i.e., a moderate level of arousal results in optimal performance, on the other hand, an excessively high level of arousal may result in anxiety, while a deficient level of arousal may be followed by boredom.

In this study, participants selected music with calming and exciting music components to mimic the low and high-arousing environment. To decode the underlying arousal and performance with respect to everyday life settings, they used peripheral physiological data as well as behavioral signals within the Bayesian Decoders.

In particular, electrodermal activity (EDA) has been widely used as a quantitative arousal index. In parallel, behavioral data such as a sequence of correct/incorrect responses and reaction time are common cognitive performance observations.

The decoded arousal and performance data points in the arousal-performance frame depict an inverted U shape, which conforms with the Yerkes-Dodson law. Also, findings present the overall better performance of participants within the exciting background music.

Considering the Yerkes-Dodson law, the researchers develop a performance-based arousal decoder that can preserve and account for the cognitive performance dynamic. Such a decoder can provide a profound insight into how physiological responses and cognitive states interplay to influence productivity.

Although several factors, such as the nature of the cognitive task, the participant’s baseline, and the type of applied music, can impact the outcome, it might be feasible to enhance cognitive performance and shift one’s arousal from either the left or right side of the curve using music.

In particular, the baseline of arousal level varies among humans, and the music may be selected to set the arousal within the desired range.

The outcome of this research can advance researchers closer to developing a practical and personalized closed-loop brain-computer interface for regulating internal brain states within everyday life activities.

About this music and cognitive performance research news

Author: Rose Faghih
Source: NYU
Contact: Rose Faghih – NYU
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
Bayesian Inference of Hidden Cognitive Performance and Arousal States in Presence of Music” by Rose Faghih et al. IEEE Open Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology.


Bayesian Inference of Hidden Cognitive Performance and Arousal States in Presence of Music

Goal: Poor arousal management may lead to reduced cognitive performance. Specifying a model and decoder to infer the cognitive arousal and performance contributes to arousal regulation via non-invasive actuators such as music.

Methods: We employ a Bayesian filtering approach within an expectation-maximization framework to track the hidden states during the n -back task in the presence of calming and exciting music. We decode the arousal and performance states from the skin conductance and behavioral signals, respectively. We derive an arousal-performance model based on the Yerkes-Dodson law. We design a performance-based arousal decoder by considering the corresponding performance and skin conductance as the observation.

Results: The quantified arousal and performance are presented. The existence of Yerkes-Dodson law can be interpreted from the arousal-performance relationship. Findings display higher matrices of performance within the exciting music.

Conclusions: The performance-based arousal decoder has a better agreement with the Yerkes-Dodson law. Our study can be implemented in designing non-invasive closed-loop systems.

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