Modern Psychological Studies
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Place of Publication
One of the most powerful ways to boost learning is to require students to self-explain—to generate written or verbal explanations of their study material as they are studying. Although self-explaining is known to enhance learning across a wide range of ages and study materials, this empirical work has focused almost exclusively on optimal study conditions. Here we explore if selfexplaining is similarly effective in the presence of background music, a distraction students commonly elect to incorporate into their study routines. In the first study, 32 university students were asked to learn about neuronal action potentials while we varied both self-explaining and the presence of loud background music. Results indicated self-explaining enhanced learning during silent study but actually impaired learning while listening to loud background music. To determine a threshold for this interaction, a second experiment was conducted (N=64) in which the music variable was manipulated at 4 levels: silent, quiet, moderate, and loud. We found increasing music volume impaired learning overall, and that this effect was particularly pronounced when students were instructed to self-explain. Overall, self-explaining is a powerful but potentially brittle learning technique, one which may not mesh well with common study habits.
BF1 .M63 v. 17 no. 2 2012
Geller, Jason and Calin-Jageman, Robert J.
"The ecological validity of the self-explanation effect: the deleterious effect of music on self-explanations,"
Modern Psychological Studies: Vol. 17:
2, Article 5.
Available at: https://scholar.utc.edu/mps/vol17/iss2/5