Ludwig van Beethoven was of the opinion that “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.” So music can reveal more than either wisdom or philosophy, but can it reveal creativity? And if it could, what music would that be?

Would it be the drawn out rhythms of Blues, the soothing, mood-elevating sounds of New Age music, or the energizing beats of Rock and roll?

It takes extraordinary creativity to compose a piece of music, but does merely listening to music make you more creative? This is the question that researchers Simone Ritter from Radboud University, The Netherlands and Sam Ferguson from the University of Technology Sydney, Australia set out to answer.

They asked whether listening to music can facilitate creative cognition—the ability to come up with creative ideas, problem solutions and products.

Previous studies have shown that listening to certain music has a beneficial effect on the intellect, but the effect of music listening on creativity has not been explored much.

To investigate the effect of music on creative cognition, researchers divided 155 participants in five groups and asked them to complete questionnaires. Each group listened to one of four different types of music that were categorized as calm, happy, sad, or anxious, depending on their emotional valence (positive, negative) and arousal (high, low), while the control group listened to silence.

As the music started playing, participants performed various cognitive tasks that tested their divergent and convergent creative thinking.

The researchers define divergent thinking as the production of multiple answers from available information by making unexpected combinations, recognizing links among remote associates, or transforming information into unexpected forms.

Convergent thinking emphasizes accuracy and logic, and applies conventional search, recognition, and decision-making strategies.

Participants who came up with the most original and useful solutions to a task scored higher in divergent creativity, while participants who came up with the single best possible solution to a task scored higher in convergent creativity.

The researchers chose music pieces that have been validated by earlier research to promote a particular mood. Based on these validations, they refer to the four pieces of music as calm (positive valance, low arousal), happy (positive valance, high arousal), sad (negative valance, low arousal) and anxious (negative valance, high arousal).

These are the four pieces of music that were elected:

  • The Swan by Saint-Saens (calm).
  • The Planets: Mars, The Bringer of War by Gustav Holst (anxious).
  • Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber (sad).
  • The Four Seasons: Spring by Vivaldi; (upbeat and happy).

So which piece of music would you guess was the best facilitator of creativity?

The answer is the upbeat and happy sounds of Vivaldi’s Spring section of his Four Seasons.

The researchers concluded that listening to ‘happy music’ (i.e., classical music that elicits positive mood and is high on arousal) is associated with an increase in divergent thinking.

Listen to it for few minutes and see what creative ideas you can come up with.

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