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“Ferguson, Yuna L. and Sheldon, Kennon M. “Trying to be happier really can work: Two experimental studies.” Journal of Positive Psychology. 19 December 2012. Accessed 29 August 2016. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17439760.2012.747000?scroll=top&needAccess=true. [/nf} An…”
Sure, we all know that “music has charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” But does it have any effect at all on busy, stressed-out working people? According to new research, it certainly does. However, the type of music appears to make a big difference on its impact.
The study, which took place at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, found that exposing employees to music on the job can significantly improve their teamwork and cooperation.[fn] Kniffin, Kevin M.; et al. “The sound of cooperation: Musical influences on cooperative behavior.” Journal of Organizational Behavior. 9 August 2016. Accessed 28 August 2016. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/job.2128/abstract.[/fn] The scientists conducted two separate experiments to test their theories on the influence of music in the workplace. In the first of these investigations, the 78 male and female subjects—all undergraduate students in a business course—were randomly placed in teams of three.
As tasks were completed, the members of the team were given individual tokens. Each token could be kept for personal benefit or added to a collective stockpile to be used for the team as a whole. The researchers either played upbeat, happy types of tunes, or more discordant songs. The cheerful music they selected was “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, the “Happy Days” theme song, “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves, and “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles. The somewhat disagreeable music on the playlist consisted of a variety of heavy metal selections by less familiar bands.
The researchers found that when the happy music was playing, the participants were more likely to offer their tokens for the group’s use, and when the less appealing music was on, the volunteers were more likely to keep the tokens for their own use. Overall, the contributions to the group pool were approximately one-third higher when listening to upbeat music as opposed to when listening to the not-so-enjoyable tunes.
For the second version of the study, the scientists recruited another 188 undergraduate students from the same business course. The experiment was set up exactly the same way, with participants being randomly assigned into teams of three and having the choice to donate tokens earned to a group collection or keeping them for individual use. In this case, however, in addition to happy and unpleasant music, some of the groups were exposed to no music playing whatsoever.
Once again, when the happy music was playing, people were more likely to share their tokens with the team. Hearing no music did not have as negative an outcome on the sharing of tokens as that of the unhappy music, but it was nowhere near as positive as the happy music’s effects.
The researchers believe that the steady beat of happier tunes promotes cooperation and teamwork among individuals and helps them get in sync with one another. After all, it can be tough to be in a bad mood when you’re listening to familiar, happy-sounding songs. A 2012 study at the University of Missouri in Columbia came to a similar conclusion, showing that uplifting classical music can improve mood.[fn] Ferguson, Yuna L. and Sheldon, Kennon M. “Trying to be happier really can work: Two experimental studies.” Journal of Positive Psychology. 19 December 2012. Accessed 29 August 2016. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17439760.2012.747000?scroll=top&needAccess=true.
[/nf} And when you’re in a good mood, let’s face it, there is a much better chance that you will say yes to a coworker’s idea, pitch in with greater effort, and not let the little things bother you so much.
Of course, the results of the current study might not be as consistent if the employees of a particular workplace are of vastly different ages or backgrounds. For example, what a 65-year-old finds pleasant, melodic, and familiar might be far different than what would appeal to a 22-year-old as happy music. If the happy music for some of the team at work is wholly unattractive to the remainder of the team, then by the scientists’ own conclusion, the level of cooperation might suffer.
But if your workplace mainly consists people of a similar demographic and you are working together on a project, it certainly couldn’t hurt to play a little happy music as you try to collaborate. If you work in a setting that doesn’t allow for music to be broadcast for all to hear, listening via headphones could possibly work just as well. You might not be in sync listening and singing along to the same tune, but you’ll still be in a better mood than you were before your music started playing. Just choose your playlist carefully! As entertaining as Ozzy Ozbourne might be, he probably doesn’t qualify as team building music.