“It’s highly unusual for a high school student to have a study published in an international journal,” noted Dr. Loeb, who mentored Richard in his research. “It’s really a testament to him and his work,” she said. She also noted that he surveyed eighty subjects in two different phases of his study, a high number for a first-time researcher.
“Richard has a maturity that is refreshing, diligence, and a real passion for science,” said his Hun biology teacher Todd Loffredo, who wrote a recommendation for Richard for the class.
In the course, Richard learned about the growing field of wearable devices, which includes everything from Fitbits to digestible blood sugar monitors for diabetics. Dr. Loeb taught her students the fundamentals of designing, conducting, and presenting a scientific study. The students were then tasked with conducting their own. Richard settled on neurology as a field of study, because he wanted to show the importance and everyday applications of one of his favorite fields.
“People have heard about neurology, but they might think it’s dry and not that interesting,” said Richard. “But everybody loves music. I wanted to connect neurology to something interesting, to something that is part of everyday life.”
Richard decided to do a study with the wearable Muse, a headband that produces an EEG, a record of brain waves. The brain activity is then recorded by a phone app. Richard, a pianist and saxophone player, like most teens, spends hours listening to music. He wondered if there was a correlation between the type of music an individual is listening to and their mood, which he defined by measuring their degree of calm, energy, and stress levels. He also wondered what kind of music was best to listen to when getting ready for a fencing match (he is a C-rated eppe fencer), or while studying.
With those questions in mind, Richard recruited sixty teenagers, half female and half male, who were attending Hun’s Summer Session. (He conducted his study in a soundproof room in the Hun School library.) He split them into four groups and asked each subject to take a survey rating their levels of stress, calmness, energy, and mood on a scale of 1 to 5. Then, one by one, wearing the Muse headband and headphones, subjects meditated for three minutes while listening to music. One group listened to pop, one to classical, one to hip hop, and one to jazz. Richard recorded their brain waves, and then administered the surveys again after the meditation.
Richard found that hip hop created the largest measurable increase in energy level or excitability in the brain, and had the least calming effect. Pop music had a minor effect on stress, mood, and energy. Classical and jazz both improved stress levels and mood in the teens, and jazz had the most calming effect, according to his data.
Richard then wondered if the mood induced by the music would affect students’ memory, an important factor when studying. For Phase 2, Richard isolated jazz and hip hop, since they had the most and least calming effects, and tested twenty new subjects. These teens took the survey before listening, but also looked at thirty playing cards and recalled the numbers on the cards. They then donned the Muse headband and headphones, meditated listening to either hip-hop or jazz for three minutes, and then did the survey and the card test again.
Richard found that jazz, which had a calming effect, also increased cognition. Subjects remembered three more cards, on average, after listening to jazz than they had before listening. Five out of ten hip hop listeners remembered fewer cards after listening, while nine out of ten jazz listeners remembered the same number, or more, after listening.
Richard said his study may indicate that a further, larger study would be useful, and he plans to do more research next summer. Such information could help makers of music apps design custom playlists depending on a listeners’ activities and desired performance.