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How background music affects our behaviour


You would be hard pressed not to notice the Christmas music playing in the background of most shops and other venues at this time of year, but the choice of music is no accident. Music and other sound effects can change our behaviour, and businesses are using this information to try and get us to spend more money.

Studies show we pay more for flowers when romantic music is playing in the background, and are happier to spend more expensive wine and food while listening to Mozart. We linger in restaurants playing slow tempo music, giving ourselves time to spend more money on food and drinks, but conversely loud music in supermarkets causes us to move through the store more quickly but buy the same amount of goods.

It is clear that the choice of music can have a major impact, and locations where large amounts of money is being spent, business owners are already starting to put their knowledge into practice. Casinos are a good example of where business owners are changing various background environmental variables to directly impact the playing behaviour of their customers.

From the colour schemes, to the smells, to the sounds, casino operators try and create the optimum environment for you to part with your money. As business psychologist Kati St Clair explains, the aim is to induce a trance-like state in gamblers. “Casinos make you feel intimate, enclosed, euphoric; you’re in a suggestible state in which you want to stay where you are, continuing to do what you are doing,” she says. Even at online casinos, operators try and get players into a “trance-like state”, similar to that felt in a nightclub, by playing mild music on a continuous loop, rather than playing any individual songs, which would gives pauses between each track.

Outside of the consumer setting, our bodies are hard wired to respond to music in a way only otherwise seen in songbirds. Our brainwaves will resonate to the beat of music, where our breathing and heartbeat will attempt to match the beat of a song. Music therapy is a field of study that explores music’s physical impact on our bodies, but the field is still quite new.

There is much work that needs to be done to help us better understand how music affects our decision-making abilities, but one thing is clear already – businesses owners will use everything at their disposal to get us to spend more money.

Photograph by StockSnap

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