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Want to Feel Powerful? Turn Up the Music

Want to Feel Powerful? Turn Up the Music
Credit: Smit/Shutterstock

If you want to get pumped up for a big presentation at work or before an important job interview, try listening to some music first, new research suggests.

While athletes have long used music to help get themselves in the right frame of mind before games, a study by researchers from the Kellogg of School of Management at Northwestern University in Illinois discovered such rituals could have similar positive effects in the business world.

Just as professional athletes might put on empowering music before they take the field to put themselves in a powerful state of mind, employees might try using tunes when they want a boost, such as before an important meeting with a boss or client, said Derek Rucker, one of the study's authors and a professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management.

"Empowering music might be used strategically to get us in the right frame of mind," Rucker said in an interview with Kellogg Insight, the school's online magazine.

Rucker said the study also has implications for advertisers.

"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," Rucker told Kellogg Insight.

To test if music could truly transform the psychological state of the listener, researchers pretested 31 pieces of music from several genres, such as sports music, hip-hop and reggae, to see how powerful participants felt. From this pretest, the researchers identified the highest-power and lowest-power songs. Tunes rated as powerful included Queen's "We Will Rock You" and 2 Unlimited's "Get Ready for This," while songs rated lower in power included Fatboy Slim's "Because We Can" and Baha Men's "Who Let the Dogs Out."

The researchers then conducted a series of experiments that looked at how the highest- and lowest-rated songs affected both people's sense of power and three previously identified psychological and behavioral consequences of power: the tendency to see the forest instead of the trees, perceived control over social events and the desire to move first in competitive interactions.

The researchers found that the high-power music not only evoked a sense of power unconsciously, but also systematically generated the three downstream consequences of power.

Dennis Hsu, one of the study's authors and a Ph.D candidate at the Kellogg School of Management, said the researchers ruled out lyrics as the cause of the music's effects by separately asking people to rate how powerful the lyrics made them feel.

"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 said in a statement.

Researchers also conducted separate experiments to look at one structural component of music that might explain the music-power effect: bass levels.

"We chose to manipulate bass levels in music because existing literature suggests that bass sound and voice are associated with dominance," Hsu said.

In the bass experiments, the researchers asked participants to listen to novel instrumental music pieces in which bass levels were digitally varied. In one experiment, the researchers surveyed participants about their self-reported feelings of power, and in another, they asked participants to perform a word-completion task designed to test unconscious feelings of power.

The study's authors found that participants who listened to the bass-heavy music reported more feelings of power and generated more power-related words in the implicit task than those listening to the low-bass music.

The researchers plan to further study other potential mechanisms through which music can induce feelings of power.

"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 said. "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."

The study was co-authored by Loran Nordgren, an associate professor of management and organizations at Kellogg; Li Huang, an assistant professor at INSEAD business school; and Adam Galinsky, a professor of business management at Columbia Business School in New York. The research was recently published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Originally published on Business News Daily

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.