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How music impacts our cognitive abilities

Nerves / synapses

The effects of music on our emotional state have been well documented through the years, with everyone having their own favourite playlist for when they are happy, sad, or pumping up for a night out. Beyond its effects on our emotions, recent studies have found that music also has an impact on our decision-making processes, which could mean big business for companies looking to get us to spend our money with them.

Statistically, almost every decision you have ever made will have been influenced by the sounds around you, and in a modern urban environment that is the music chosen by the businesses you interact with on a daily basis, from your workplace, to the supermarket, to your favourite little French bistro down the street.

Music in the workplace

Some of my favourite past workplaces have let the employees pick the music, and that means getting a taste of what everyone is into and often finding out about bands old and new that I had never come across before. However, such freedom is only generally an option when you work in small teams and you won’t be disturbing the whole floor. Instead, many offices choose to have no background music, which might appear more “professional” could actually negatively impact employee performance, especially those stuck doing repetitive tasks.

Music in retail

Shops want you to spend more time in their stores and more importantly more money on their products, so finding the right music to make customers ready to part with their cash is hugely important. In one study, researchers found that classical music, subdued colours, elegant perfumes, and cool temperatures all work to prime customers to pay more for luxury goods, while country music primes people to spend more on utilitarian items.

Music in restaurants and cafes

A silent restaurant can make for some awkward conversations and will put everyone on edge, but eateries that get the music wrong can put off customers so much they will never come back. If you’re eating at a Michelin-starred upmarket restaurant and they decided to play the Best of the Spice Girls, it can make the whole evening feel cheap. But similarly, a burger joint playing classical music will make the whole experience less relaxed.

Music in casinos

Gambling can be a fun activity, but no-one is under any illusion that casinos are not out to make as much money as possible. Places like Las Vegas lure in potential customers with shows from big-name acts, huge sporting events, and top-of-the-line restaurants, all with the hope that you will spend some of your money at the tables. It should therefore be no surprise that casinos are some of the most well researched locations for the impact of music.

Researchers have found that tempo (BPM) is key to how people experience as casino floor, with uptempo music preferred by gamblers to slower more laid-back beats. They found that music with a higher BPM resulted in customers placing bets more quickly and more likely to get swept up in the excitement, while slower music made gamblers feel uneasy and less likely to place a bet.

Background music online?

Whilst we have all become accustomed to background music throughout our day and would find the silence awkward at best if it suddenly disappeared, the situation is very different online. No major ecommerce stores play background music and neither do any of the best casino sites, social media platforms, or anywhere else.

If you do find a site that does autoplay music it feels like going back to the web in 1995. The silence online is golden, and if we want to hear music we can just hit play on Spotify or Soundcloud and listen to the music we want rather than the music a business wants use to hear. If you want to turn on the sound on your favourite sites, whether they’re music sites, video sites, or online betting sites, or just an online game.

Photograph by Geralt

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