music for power
August 7, 2014

Music Has Ways Of Making Us Feel Powerful, But Why And How?

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

The English playwright William Congreve wrote that "music has charms to soothe a savage breast," meaning that music could calm the nerves and emotions of the most agitated person. But what if being agitated, or more powerful, is exactly what you need?

A new study from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University reveals that music is the answer in this case as well. However, not all songs are created equal when it comes to empowering you, and the level of bass in the song is a key factor. The results of the study were recently published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

"When watching major sports events, my coauthors and I frequently noticed athletes with their earphones on while entering the stadium and in the locker room," said Dennis Hsu of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in a Sage Publications statement. "The ways these athletes immerse themselves in the music – some with their eyes steely shut and some gently nodded along the beats – seem as if the music is mentally preparing and toughening them up for the competition about to occur."

The researchers were curious to know if music could really transform the psychological state of the listener. According to prior studies, music has positive effects on people, including enhancing learning, increasing motivation, and reducing physical pain. Until now, however, no study has linked music to a feeling of powerfulness, or established the consequences and potential causes of this link.

First, the team pre-tested 31 pieces of music, ranging from sports music to hip-hop and reggae, to see how 30-second clips affected participants' feelings of powerfulness. They were able to identify the highest power songs (including Queen's "We Will Rock You" and 2 Unlimited's "Get Ready for This") and the lowest power songs (including Fatboy Slim's "Because We Can" and Baha Men's "Who Let the Dogs Out").

The researchers then conducted a series of experiments to examine how the highest power and lowest power songs affect a person's sense of power. They also assessed the effect of the music on three previously identified psychological and behavioral consequences of power: the tendency to see the forest instead of the trees (thought abstraction), perceived control over social events (illusion of control), and the desire to move first in competitive interactions.

They tested each dimension of power using specific tasks from previously established research. To measure the illusion of control, for example, they used a die-rolling task. For measuring abstraction, an item categorization task was used. And to measure moving first, they used a decision-making task. "Part of our objective was to test whether music produces the same downstream effects of power found in other sources," Hsu said.

The participants were asked to respond to a survey about their positive feelings. This data was statistically controlled to be sure that any effects found were over and above those created by emotion.

The results revealed that the high-power music not only evoked an unconscious sense of power, but also systematically generated all three downstream consequences of power. To differentiate between the music and the lyrics, the participants were asked to read the lyrics and report their feelings of power. The team was able to rule out lyrics as the cause of the effects. "Because participants did not report increased powerful feelings after reading the lyrics, we can rule out the semantic priming effect of lyrics in the selected songs," Hsu explained.

Separate experiments allowed the team to look at one structural component of music that might explain the link between music and power: bass levels. "We chose to manipulate bass levels in music because existing literature suggests that bass sound and voice are associated with dominance," Hsu says. The researchers note that bass sound and voice are frequently used in popular culture to convey perceptions of dominance and confidence. For example, James Earl Jones' voice as Star Wars' Darth Vader.

Participants were asked to listen to new instrumental pieces with digitally varied bass levels. For one experiment, participants were questioned about their self-reported feelings of power, while in another, they were asked to perform a word-completion task that tested implicit, or unconscious, feelings of power. Participants who listened to the heavy-bass music samples reported more feelings of power and generated more power-related words than those who listened to low-bass samples.

The results of these experiments support the "contagion hypothesis" for why music affects people's feelings of powerfulness. The contagion hypothesis suggests that when people hear specific music components that express a feeling of power, they mimic these feelings internally. "Importantly, because we used novel, never-before-heard music pieces in these experiments, it suggests that the effect may sometimes arise purely out of contagion," Hsu said. "Of course, this does not preclude the possibility that music could induce a sense of power through other processes, such as conditioning."

The "conditioning hypothesis" indicates that powerful experiences can be triggered by certain music because these experiences are often paired with that music. For example, music used at sports events, such as "We Are The Champions," may evoke feelings of power because of the association with power, rewards and winning.

The research team plans to continue by studying other potential mechanisms for music to induce feelings of power. They are also interested in exploring whether empowering music can lead to more desirable outcomes in other areas, such as negotiations, job performance, job interviews, marketing campaigns and social perceptions.

"Although significantly more research needs to be done before we can truly begin to understand music's effects on our psychological experiences, I believe our findings provide initial evidence for the potential strategic use of music, especially in situations where people need to feel empowered," Hsu says. "People might want to explore whether pumping up their favorite tunes can quickly ease them into an empowered mental state before going into a first date, an important client meeting, or a job interview."

According to a university statement, advertisers should take note. “Given that music can have psychological triggers, what you want to do in your advertisement is align with how you want your consumer to think and feel.” said Derek D. Rucker, professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management. And more broadly, research should not limit itself to music. We can also consider how other environmental cues affect our behavior. Aparna Labroo, a professor of marketing at Kellogg, has noted, for instance, that turning up the lights can intensify emotions.

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