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How music can influence behaviour

Updated: May 25, 2021

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said that “Without music, life would be a mistake”. Regardless of the type of music every one of us uses to listen to, we can all agree that it is one of the best things a human being can experience, it stimulates and triggers emotions, reevoke episodes of our life and people which our mind associates to a specific song or theme, motivates us and keep us company during tough times. Although, someone may argue that listening to music is not a matter of life or death we can agree with Nietzsche on the fact that without music, our lives would be much poorer and empty. From the theme of our alarm in the morning to gigs, movies, and spots on tv we are constantly bombarded by music. Its harmony, the driving or relaxed rhythms, the colour of the sounds, the activity of a piece, how the sounds are produced are tendentially subjective of each individual, however, as we will discover in this article, there are some common biases related to the world of music.

Music and the state of the economy Music may also be important in helping to understand how the economy is performing, particularly, it can be related with the stock market. By looking to the US Billboard Top 100, a chart that registers the most popular songs in the US based on sales, online streaming and radio play, and then looking at the fluctuations of the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq, there seems to be a relation with the songs’ lyrics and stock market decisions. For instance, a prevalence of happy and rhythmical melodies indicates a rise in the financial markets, whereas a predominance of songs related to surprise and uncertainty proposes a fall. Regarding statistics, an increase of 1% in the incidence of words related with happiness, in the top 100 songs, is predicted to increase by on average, 0.244% the Nasdaq and 0.165% the S&P 500 returns, whereas a 1% increase in the frequency of words related with anticipation is associated with a drop of, on average, 0.444% in Nasdaq and 0.315% in the S&P 500 returns. Taking the example of the Black Wednesday, on the 16th of September 1992, where the pound sterling crashed, the single that was on UK’s top that week was “Ebeneezer Goode”,by The Shamen, one of the most controversial UK hits of the 90s due to its support of recreational drug use.

Music and product selection Music can also play an important indirect role in influencing our product selection. In a study it was found that wine choices can be manipulated depending on the in-store music playing in the background. For instance, in an experiment conducted by the university of Leicester the same number of German and French wines where placed side by side in a supermarket. They were paired for dryness/sweetness and price. By tracking consumers choices, the study found that French wine outsold German wine when French music was played, while German wine outsold French wine when German music was performed. It is because when we listen to a song we tend to identify or in this case choose products which are related to that song in same way (in this scenario the detector is a geographical one). Experiment as this opens to the development of a wide range of applications in superstores and retailers because it produces an unintentional stimulus for the buyer to change its preferences without applying any discount or sales / marketing tool. The spotted products will be seen and perceived as preferable, ceteris paribus, to their peers. Possible applications can be finding music which targets products over which the seller enjoys higher margins or products around which it is difficult to construct a proper marketing campaign.

Volume selection Another aspect to be considered when talking about music is volume. Many studies reported that noisier music tends to make people more excited and awakened (Witt 2008) and vice versa lower levels of music volume make people relaxed and calm (Nilsson 2009). In addition, higher levels of excitement and/ or stress, tend to enhance preference for more caloric and fatter foods (Oliver et al. 2000). By contrast, the opposite occurs when people are more relaxed being them proner to exercise healthier choices. This suggests that lower rather than higher volume music will lead to healthier food choices. According to these studies then, low loudness levels of ambient music increase the probability of healthy food to be consumed and have a negative effect on energy diets.

Conclusion To sum-up, music does play an important nonspeaking part in our lives. Volume, kind of music and music trends can provide actual signals to both firms and policymakers on the health of the economy and marketing campaign. In the future we will likely see the music industry expand further (streaming platforms are already a reality) and reach every final customer in an even more capillary way. Music may become a cheap tool to furnish feedbacks and boost targeted sales. Finally, we will assist to more applications following the intuitions of the examples we provided above. No one, in the end, can escape the irrational reaction to music.


Pietro Fadda – Chief Editor Catarina Chambino - Research Analyst



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Wine experiment: North, A., Hargreaves, D. & McKendrick, J. In-store music affects product choice. Nature 390, 132 (1997).

Volume example: Dipayan Biswas , Kaisa Lund, and Courtney Szocs (2016) ,"Ambient Music and Food Choices: Can Music Volume Level Nudge Healthier Choices?", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 44, eds. Page Moreau, Stefano Puntoni, and , Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 53-58.

Witt, Catherine L. (2008), “Turn Down the Noise,” Advances in Neonatal Care, 8 (3), 137-38.

Nilsson, Ulrica (2009), “Soothing Music can Increase Oxycotin Levels during Bed Rest after Open-Heart Surgery: A Randomized Control Trial,” Journal of Clinical Nursing, 18, 2153-61

Oliver, Georgina, Jane Wardle, Leigh Gibson (2000), “Stress and Food Choice: A Laboratory Study,” Psychosomatic Medicine, 62, 853-65

Music and the state of the economy: Yeoman, Fran. 2018. "The Music We Listen To Can Tell Us A Lot About The State Of The Economy". Inews.Co.Uk.

Sabouni, Hisam. 2018. "(PDF) The Rhythm Of Markets". Researchgate.

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