LONDON: There may be a hidden dark side to upbeat music, suggests new research. According to recent findings, listening to happy music can increase one’s willingness to hurt others and bend what they deem morally acceptable. They say the findings reveal just how powerful music can be in influencing our behaviour. Volunteers were asked to do the researchers a favour by telling a student they could not take part in work they needed to do in order to complete their course. When James Brown’s hit I Got You (I Feel Good) or Mozart’s A Little Night Music were playing the background, the volunteers were more likely to agree. This contrasts with the idea that aggressive music like metal and rap may encourage violence, instead suggesting upbeat music is also a risk. Dr Naomi Ziv, a psychologist who led the study, said upbeat music seems to make people more accepting of what they are told or being asked to do, even if it goes against their morals. She warned the effect could be exploited by politicians or radical groups hoping to spread messages of hate or encourage people to harm others. “In politics, it is used all the time to create enthusiasm and agreement. There are many social contexts when people are together, singing or hearing music together. It creates a feeling of group cohesion and agreement,” she stated. In a series of studies published in the journal Psychology of Music, scientists asked volunteers to listen to fictional radio adverts that offered them forged documents for higher pensions. Those who listened to the advert with Mozart playing in the background were more accepting of cheating in this way.
In another test, volunteers were told to perform a grammar test and then asked if they could do the scientists a favour. While most people would baulk at doing someone else’s dirty work, surprisingly, when the James Brown hit was playing in the background, 82% agreed to do it. In contrast, the majority of those asked to do the favour when no music was playing refused. “What is most concerning is that this was just background music – they were not actively listening,” said Dr Ziv. “The favour involved hurting someone else and many of them said they would do it.” According to Dr Ziv, this may explain why music has become a popular tool in the advertising industry. “It has a strong effect without people really being aware. It works without you noticing it, which is maybe its power.” The effect, however, could be far more serious. Dr Ziv noted that during the Rwandan genocides, music played a key role. Jason McCoy, a musicologist at the Dallas Baptist University in Texas, has studied how music on the radio may have been used to support messages of hate broadcast during the massacres of 800,000 people by Hutu militias in 1994. “Music helped to normalise the narrative that became the emotional and rational basis for genocide,” he explained. “It was one component of a total propaganda effort that, in conjunction with actual on-the- ground circumstances, had the effect of instilling fear in many Hutu and creating a sense of unity among them.”