MONDAY, Aug. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Studying for an exam while listening to music is not smart, because background music can impair your ability to perform memory tasks, new research has found.

Study participants were asked to recall a list of eight consonants in the order they were presented. They did this while in five different sound environments: quiet surroundings; music they liked; music they disliked; changing state (a sequence of random digits); and steady state (a sequence of steady digits such as "3, 3, 3, 3").

The participants' recall ability was poorest when listening to music, regardless of whether they liked or disliked it, and in changing-state conditions. The most accurate recall occurred when participants performed the task in steady-state environments, according to the study published online in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology.

"The poorer performance of the music and changing-state sounds are due to the acoustical variation within those environments. This impairs the ability to recall the order of items, via rehearsal, within the presented list," explained lead researcher Nick Perham, a lecturer in the School of Psychology at the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff, in a news release from the journal's publisher.

"Mental arithmetic also requires the ability to retain order information in the short-term via rehearsal, and may be similarly affected by their performance in the presence of changing-state, background environments," he added.

When performing a challenging mental task, do it in silence, Perham recommended.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about memory.