8 Dec 2011

Sound of Music

Marketeers have known it for a long time. Music is a great tool to put people in a particular mood (prodigal, usually). According to a book I have read recently, an entire field of behavioural science has developed around how various tunes will encourage us to buy more. Depending on the context, we are exposed to fast- or slow-paced, loud or low, hip or retro sounds while shopping. And while we have become immune to visual stimulants such as big signs and billboards, this muzak bypasses our emotional filters and goes straight into our brain's mood-control.

Naturally, this effect works not just in a commercial environment. Last weekend, I was listening to one of my favorite radio stations, which was playing an afternoon's worth of great summer tunes. And sure enough, as the Beach Boys, Bruce Springsteen and even Olivia Newton-John caroled the warm season, my mood lifted. Granted, the fact that I was running through a leafy Santiago park on a 30 degree Chilean summer day may have had something to do with it, too. But when my little radio's battery died and I still had a good few kilometers to go, I noticed how much of an extra boost the sound had provided.

It is not just extra thrust that music can provide. When travelling, once I get to the point of being too exhausted to read or do anything productive (such as typing this post, say), I typically switch to the "fly" playlist on my mp3 player, and the soothing tunes put me in a transitionary zen state as I gaze at the clouds below. And unlike achieving said state with a few glasses of cheap airline tipple, this method does not cause much of a hang-over.

So clearly, I am as susceptible as anyone to the mood-altering effects of sound. A fact which my local shopping mall back in Montréal is shamelessly trying to exploit. From the day after the Halloween pumpkins disappeared, they started piping sugary holiday tunes through the premises, which much to my annoyment I caught myself humming along with. Although really, it was only early November and I was most definitley not yet dreaming of a White Christmas. But now, here we are in the middle of December and when I return to Montréal, the low temperatures and short days will leave no doubt about the fact that the end of the year is near. Eventually, my defenses always break down and I surrender to the mind-altering sound of music. Just like Last Christmas.

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