Men! If you want to win at board games this Christmas, turn off the rock music – scientists

Blokes are worse at playing while listening to heavy metal

Chaps, listen. Are you sick of losing at Monopoly every Christmas? Do you dread the sight of backgammon or the sound of rattling Scrabble tiles? The trick to winning board games could be to avoid listening to rock music, apparently.

Scientists at Imperial College London have teamed up with musicians from the Royal College of Music to find out how music can affect performance.

352 visitors (of these, 184 were men and 143 were women, say the study's authors*) at Imperial Festival – an annual event celebrating science at the university – were asked to play the game Operation while listening to one of three different genres of music (assigned randomly).

The goal was to carefully remove plastic body parts from Cavity Sam, a worried-looking cartoon man, who has a red light bulb nose that lights up every time players touched the edge of a cavity opening with a pair of tweezers. And the players received a mild electric shock.

Participants were given headphones that played one of three songs: Andante from Sonata for Two Pianos by Mozart, Thunderstruck by AC/DC, or the sound of an operating theatre. They were timed on how long they took to remove three body parts, and were tracked as to the number of mistakes made.

Surprisingly, the choice of music seemed to affect only men’s performance. Women seemed to be undistracted by the music, and although they spent more time operating on Cavity Sam, they made fewer mistakes and generally performed better than the men involved in the test.

Men who listened to AC/DC made more mistakes and were slower, compared to men who listened to Mozart or the sounds of an operating theatre. “Thunderstruck triggered around 36 mistakes on average, while the Sonata and operating theatre noises caused 28,” according to Imperial College London.

“This study suggests that for men who are operating or playing a board game, rock music may be a bad idea,” said Dr Daisy Fancourt, lead author of the study and researcher at the Centre of Performance Science, a joint collaboration between Imperial College London and the Royal College of Music.

It is still unclear why rock music affected men more than women. Researchers say it could be because men are more susceptible to “auditory stresses” brought on by loud or harsh music. Classical music only affected men more if they were fans of Mozart’s Sonata.

Most humans have a natural affinity to music, and there is a lot of research into how music can affect the body and mind.

Fancourt explained that music is played in operating theatres up to 72 per cent of the time. Researchers have found that “Jamaican music and Hip-Hop increase operating speed and surgical instrument manipulation.” It doesn’t benefit everyone in the same way, however, and some anaesthetists find music distracting.

“Although this study is clearly tongue-in-cheek, and was all performed in our spare time, it is part of our wider research into the effect of music on performance – particularly in a medical setting such as an operating theatre,” Fancourt said.

For those who are interested in the research, the paper can be found here. ®

* There is no information on the remaining 25. We presume they declined to identify their gender.

Other stories you might like

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022