Study environments can have a profound affect on students. Your surroundings — whether you’re in a small or large room, a loud or a quiet one, even a blue or a red one — can change your emotions, thoughts and focus. That means that surrounding yourself with the correct stimuli can make the difference between studying that sticks…or doesn’t.
What’s more, the perfect study environment is, in fact, more than one place. While classic advice says to find a specific spot that you habitually use just for studying, research says the opposite. Studies have shown that studying the same material in different locations increases your ability to retain the information.
Your brain constantly processes sensory information, even when you don’t realize it. When you’re studying, all of this information—the sights, sounds, and feelings you experience—gets connected with the information that you’re purposely feeding into your brain. The more connections you can make to the information you’re trying to remember, the more likely you are to retain the knowledge.
There are characteristics you can look for in your several ideal study environments to enhance your focus and memory:
While much of the field of color psychology is unproven, one study has noted a correlation between the color red and poorer test performance. No one knows why, but the common wisdom holds that red excites our nervous system, making us agitated or excited and less likely to focus. Of course it’s hard to dictate the color of the room that’s most convenient for you, but if you can, try to pick a room without loud colors. You don’t want the walls themselves to distract you!
Are you claustrophobic? Then avoid the study carrels in the library! Room size has different effects on different people. While a small space would serve to block distractions from one student, it might make another anxious. Anxiety can lead to interruptions in certain cognitive functions, like working memory. Create environments that make you feel calm and happy when you start to study. Chances are you’ll pay better attention to your work.
Noise is another surprising stressor. We know you love that coffee shop, but some scientists think that background noise creates a certain amount of bodily stress, producing a hormone called cortisol. Excess cortisol keeps a section of the brain called the prefrontal cortex from working properly. The prefrontal cortex helps control what’s called “executive” functions, including planning and reasoning — two faculties you’ll need while you’re studying for a difficult exam! Scientific American claims that “the prefrontal cortex [may also store] short-term memories. Changes to this region, therefore, may disrupt a person’s capacity to think clearly and to retain information.”
But what about music? After all, plenty of people claim that listening to Mozart makes you smarter. Surely the right music could help you study, right? The science is pretty mixed. The so-called Mozart Effect was illustrated by a study in which college students who listened to Mozart performed better on a test of spatial reasoning than students who listened to relaxation music or to nothing at all. However, the boost to performance lasted only for a few minutes, and other studies have failed to replicate the results—so Mozart doesn’t make you smarter. Lots of other researchers have looked into the cognitive effects of music. Some studies have shown that music that promotes positive feelings and that doesn’t have a lot of tempo changes might be beneficial. Others have shown no effect regardless of the music or have shown inconsistent results. In the end, whether music will help depends on a lot of factors: what you’re studying, what music you play, how loud you play it, and your own personality and preferences.
What’s your perfect study environment?
Only you can figure that out, but our suggestion is to trust your gut. Look for a room that makes you feel at ease, probably a quiet one with cool colors. The more relaxed you are, the better you’ll remember why the Archduke Franz Ferdinand is important, or when George Washington forded the Delaware, or who discovered DNA. Find a great place, and hit those books! If you need help figuring out how your study environment may be affecting your grades and test scores, reach out to your local C2 Education center for a free consultation.