Listening to music makes teams more productive

Cornell University researchers have tested the effect music can have on the cooperative behaviour of individuals working as a team.

Music has been used for decades to enhance customer experiences in retail stores. The type of music played tends to reflect the type of store, from casual acoustic melodies at the coffee shop to throbbing electronic beats at teen clothing outlets, for example.

While repetitive festive songs can drive retail staff (and customers) a little crazy in December, researchers concluded happy music provokes staff to more often make decisions that contribute to the good of the team.

In each study, participants were grouped into teams of three. Each team member was given multiple opportunities to either contribute to the team’s value using tokens, or keep the tokens for personal use. Here’s what was reported in an article on the Cornell University website.

When happy, upbeat music was played – researchers chose the Happy Days theme song, Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison, Yellow Submarine by the Beatles and Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves – team members were more likely to contribute to the group’s value. When music deemed unpleasant was played – in this case, heavy metal songs by less well-known bands – participants were more likely to keep tokens for themselves. The researchers found contribution levels to the public good when happy, upbeat songs were played were approximately one-third higher compared to the less pleasant music.

When the researchers conducted a second experiment testing how people react when no music is played, the results were the same.

“Music is a pervasive part of much of our daily lives, whether we consciously notice it or not,” Cornell University behavioural scientist and lead author on the paper, Kevin Kniffin, said.

“Music might melt into the background in places like supermarkets or gyms and other times it’s very prominent, like places of worship or presidential nominating conventions.

“Our results show that people seem more likely to get into sync with each other if they’re listening to music that has a steady beat to it.”

The researchers suggest managers consider not only the customer experience, but also their staff when picking the day’s music. Starting the day with this simple consideration in mind could result in happier employees and more teamwork.

“What’s great about these findings, other than having a scientific reason to blast tunes at work, is that happy music has the power to make the workplace more cooperative and supportive overall,” Cornell Food and Brand Lab director, Brian Wansink, said.