How do you feel when you listen to “Sabotage” by The Beastie Boys? Or “Big Poppa” by Notorious B.I.G? Or — to pick an entirely different genre — “Work Bitch” by Britney “Godney” Spears? All three of these songs have one thing in common: they make you feel powerful, invincible, and (in Britney’s case) like getting to work.
A new study out of Northwestern University finds that music can trigger a response in our brains that elicits feelings of power, but not all music is created equal. Let’s just say you shouldn’t expect to get pumped for that work presentation by listening to Simon and Garfunkel.
“An effective and convenient way to activate power is to expose oneself to high-power music,” researcher Dennis Y. Hsu explains. “More broadly, the ubiquitous nature of music in society makes it a potentially effective medium for inducing power, likely without listeners’ conscious awareness.”
Northwestern conducted several experiments in order to gauge the way powerful music influences decision-making, including one in which participants were asked to imagine a situation where they could earn money by predicting the outcome of a die-roll. Participants who were pumped-up on powerful tunes were more likely to roll the die themselves, while those who weren’t were more likely to ask the researcher to roll for them. Similarly, the study found that participants who listened to amped-up songs were more inclined go first in a fabricated debate.
Obviously, powerful music goes a long way in triggering feelings of self-assertion, but is “We Are The Champions” by Queen just as capable as prompting a power-trip as “Stronger” by Kanye West? In order to determine what qualities render a song power-promoting, researchers asked participants to listen to one of two versions of the same tune. Those who listened to the version with increased bass reported greater feelings of power, and completed a problem solving test with more power-related words, while those who listened to the version with decreased bass reported less feelings of power, and used fewer power-related words.
“Not only did we confirm that certain music makes people feel more powerful than other music, we established the capability of music to activate the concept of power implicitly and promote power-related cognition and behavior,” Dennis says.
This study is one of many that showcase music’s ability to affect our emotions, but the first to identify exactly how music increases feelings of capability and confidence. Definitely something to think about when you’re putting together the perfect playlist to prepare for that nerve-wracking job interview you have coming up!