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I was watching an interview with Spolsky and he mentioned some study that showed listening to music with headphones caused a drop in having "deep thoughts"


I can't find this anywhere; what was the study and where can I find it?

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Compare to Music And Productivity. Though I believe I heard some blurb making the same claim. –  dmckee Jan 10 '12 at 21:42
That's a debate that's been going on among IT workers for decades. Joel has a rather radical view on things (as he does on many things). If I remember correctly he "studied" things himself in his own company (with himself the main test subject). Of course any such results can not apply to all work environments. E.g. in a large open plan office headphones and soft music (not hard rock :) ) can help prevent distractions (Joel would claim and has on so I think that that just means it's a bad work environment, but for millions it's reality... –  jwenting Jan 11 '12 at 11:38
@jwenting while likely true, I would still like to look at the study to see their methods and conclusions. –  Nick T Jan 11 '12 at 20:59
I would also like to see how the results can be generalized to the population. 2 of the top (in term of productivity & quality) 3 developers I know listen to hard trance music the whole day. –  user3979 Feb 3 '12 at 11:55
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This question came from our site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development.

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The study was described in Tom DeMarco's excellent book "Peopleware." I think it was said to be done at Cornell University.

IIRC, the gist was that they gave a programming problem to a bunch of students, involving reading a list of input numbers, doing some math on them, then outputting the transformed list. They divided into "listen to music" and "silent". The two groups turned out to have the same average time to complete the project and the same rate of bugs. But the series of computations was carefully designed so that the output was identical to the input (but not obviously so by the instructions). The punch line was that of the minority of students who discovered this insight, most of them were in the "silent" group.

A number of years ago I tried to track it down and was unable to find a real published citation. Perhaps it never was published in a real journal? Even if it was, it was a small sample size of a limited demographic (CS undergrads at one university) and deserves a more rigorous follow-up, because the implications if it's a real effect are staggering.

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