Background music may influence your spending habits
Susan Chiang/iStockphoto

Click here for free access to our latest coronavirus/COVID-19 research, commentary, and news.

Support nonprofit science journalism

Science’s extensive COVID-19 coverage is free to all readers. To support our nonprofit science journalism, please make a tax-deductible gift today.

Background music may influence your spending habits

Background music in restaurants and stores may be having a more profound effect on you than you think. In a new study, researchers placed 10 volunteers in different rooms with music from one of three regions—the United States, China, or India—playing on loop. Each participant then perused a menu for 5 minutes with 30 dinner options (10 from each country). The scientists then asked them to recall as many dishes from the menu as they could, and then choose one to “order.” Participants better remembered and chose dishes that reflected the music they had listened to before looking at the menu, the team will report in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Retailing. Those who listened to American music (“California Girls,” “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” and “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys) for example, chose food like hamburgers and hot dogs. In the second experiment, researchers focused on two types of American music—classical and country—this time focusing on how it influenced spending habits. Volunteers who listened to classical music said they would pay more for “social identity” items like gold earrings and cologne than when they listened to country music. Those who listened to country music, on the other hand, were more inclined to buy “utility items” like ballpoint pens, a toothbrush, or light bulbs. In a final experiment, the researchers again played classical music and asked volunteers how much they would pay for a social identity item, but this time gave them less time to decide, adding to what they call the participants’ “cognitive load.” Those under time pressure decided to pay more, suggesting the subconscious is more susceptible to musical influence when there is more cognitive pressure. That’s not to say that Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony” is the reason for all expensive impulse buys, but it may make a pricey hair gel seem more palatable at the time.