Does Music Increase Risk-Taking, Ethical Lapses?

John DrydenJohn Dryden

John Dryden

What passion cannot Music raise and quell?” asked English poet, playwright, and critic John Dryden in A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day, 1687.

More recently, researchers have identified that music can increase risk-taking and ethically questionable behaviors in experimental settings.

Marja-Liisa Halko

Marja-Liisa Halko

Listening to preferred music was associated with increased risk-taking in a study of 23 adolescents ages 12 to 17 conducted by University of Helsinki’s Marja-Liisa Halko and Markku Kaustia of Aalto University.
Participants identified favorite and most disliked songs, and these tracks provided alternating background music during 16 opportunities to gamble for real money in trials with varying risk.

Volunteers could choose whether to participate or pass on gambles that offered a 50-50 chance to win or lose money.
If they accepted a gamble marked “plus 1.50, minus 1.20,” they had a 50 percent chance of winning 1.5 Euros, and a 50 percent chance of losing 1.2 Euros.
Preferred music was played during 64 gambles, whereas disliked music provided the auditory background during 64 other trials, and another 128 gambles were conducted in silence.

Markku Kaustia

Markku Kaustia

Participants accepted more risky gambles when their favorite music played, and they accepted fewest high risk gambles when accompanied by disliked tunes. These findings suggest that preferred music increases money’s “marginal utility” or additional satisfaction a consumer gains from “consuming one more unit of a good or service.”

Favorite music seemed to encourage people to “do what it takes” to earn more money, even if it involves greater risk and potential loss.

Naomi Ziv

Naomi Ziv

Many people prefer up-tempo music due to its mood-enhancing effects, yet upbeat music may have a darker side:  It can move people to harm others, found NYU’s Naomi Ziv.

More than 100 volunteers spent 90 seconds trying to underline all vowels in an unclear photocopied page of text.
One-quarter of the participants completed the task in silence, while the others heard one of four upbeat musical numbers, including James Brown’s I Feel Good while they finished the job.

Erica Nadera

Erica Nadera

Ziv’s team asked volunteers to inconvenience and disappoint their peers by telling saying that other volunteers couldn’t participate in a study required for academic credit because the researcher didn’t feel like staying during the experiment.

In another study, Ziv’s team asked voluntary participants to tell another volunteer who had been seriously ill that the researcher would not provide previously-promised course material, again because the researcher didn’t feel like doing so.

Steven Brown

Steven Brown

People who heard upbeat music played in the background were significantly more willing to provide the ethically dubious excuse to another volunteer compared with people who completed the task in silence.

Ulrik Volgsten

Ulrik Volgsten

Effective manipulation through music, including its use in advertising and in torture were summarized by Erica Nadera of Rutgers, while MacMaster University’s Steven Brown and Ulrik Volgsten of Örebro University assembled academic articles on music’s social uses and social control processes.

Daniel Västfjäll

Daniel Västfjäll

The specific mechanism to trigger changes in individuals’ experienced affective processes has been called including “musical mood induction procedure” (MMIP) by Linköping University’s Daniel Västfjäll in his review of research demonstrating music’ effect on peoples’ moods and emotions.

Emmett Velten

Emmett Velten

The most frequently-used mood induction procedure was developed by University of Southern California’s Emmett Velten and typically asks participants to read 60 self-referent statements including “This is great, I really do feel good” (elated condition), “I have too many bad things in my life” (depressed condition), and  “This book or any part thereof must not be reproduced in any form” (neutral condition).

However, this approach’s validity and reliability are limited by demand characteristics biasing results because the experimenters’ expectations suggest an implicit demand for specific performance requirements.

David M Clark

David M Clark

As a result, University of Oxford’s David M. Clark developed the Musical MIP eliciting depressed, neutral, and elated mood conditions based on music, and University of Oxford colleague Maryanne Martin noted that the MMIP induced the desired mood more than 75% of experimental trials.

She also concluded that the MMIP was especially efficient in inducing depressed and anxious moods, but inferior to other MIPs (such as Welten’s mood-induction procedure, social feedback, and social recollection) in inducing elated moods

Music’s varied impact on mood, performance, decision-making, pain perception, endurance and other dimensions is discussed in related blog posts, as is its use for beneficial and these less altruistic ends.

-*How do you use music to manage your own and others’ mood and productivity?

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