By Kathryn Doyle
(Reuters Health) – The right mood music can influence how well people work together, a new management-oriented study suggests.
Many retail establishments carefully select the music they play in order to influence consumer behavior, such as encouraging shoppers to buy more, the authors write. But employees hear the same music and its effect on them hasn’t been studied.
“In our case, the new article focuses attention on the role of music in relation to management questions,” said lead author Kevin M. Kniffin of Cornell University in New York.
In the first of two studies, 78 participants were randomly divided into two groups: a “happy music” group that heard songs like “Yellow Submarine” by The Beatles and the theme from the television show “Happy Days,” and an “unhappy music” group that heard less familiar heavy metal songs like “Smokahontas” by Attack Attack!
The participants in each group used a computer application in which they played a sort of economics game with other unidentified participants in the same room, but players didn’t speak to one another.
In the application, each person was given 10 tokens corresponding to monetary value and was paired with two other people. Over 20 rounds of decision-making, each person was prompted to either keep their tokens or allocate them to a group pool which would be split among the participants at the end. Tokens in the group pool were valued 1.5 times as much as those held individually.
Consistently, people listening to happy music contributed more to the group pool.
In a second study, the researchers repeated the design with an added no-music group, and also measured participants’ moods.
Again, those hearing happy music contributed more to the group pool than those hearing unhappy music or no music at all. Unhappy music elicited a worse mood than both other conditions, and a happier mood was tied to more token contributions to the group, according to the results in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.
“The bottom line is that emotions count,” said Neal M. Ashkanasy, professor of management at The University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, who was not part of the new research.
People in a positive mood are more cooperative and more creative, while those in a negative mood tend to narrow in on solving individual problems rather than group problems, Ashkanasy told Reuters Health.
“Interestingly, we find that mood helps to explain some of the relationship – such that people’s moods get lifted by happy music – but we also find a statistically independent effect for happy music in relation to cooperation,” Kniffin told Reuters Health by email.
“Given that having a good rhythm is a definitional feature of happy music, our article suggests that people are partly motivated to cooperate when happy music is being played because of the rhythm’s tendency to get people into sync with each other,” he said.
Retail outlets already use things like music, lighting, paint color and even smell to influence customer behavior, in some cases encouraging lingering in the store and in other cases encouraging “churn” through the doors, Kniffin said.
“Our article calls on people to recognize that the atmospherics — including but not limited to music — that are designed to influence consumer behavior should be recognized for their potential importance in relation to — and potential conflict with — employee behavior,” he said.
“In terms of the potential for ‘bad music’ to adversely affect employees in the workplace, it is interesting that in the context of our lab experiments, at least, there was no harm done in relation to cooperative decision making when Screamo music was played when compared with no music,” Kniffin said.