Simanaitis Says

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AUSTRALIAN RESEARCHERS have studied the music congruity effects on consumer behavior; loosely, how background music affects sales of one thing or another. Not surprisingly, it depends on what’s being sold and where. Part of me finds this duh-I-knew-that. But, part of me is fascinated by the researchers’ methodology in verifying these truisms.

Adrian C. North and Lorraine P. Sheridan are at the School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia. Charles S. Areni is a vast continent apart at the Macquarie Graduate School of Management, North Ryde, New South Wales, Australia. Their study, “Music Congruity Effects on Product Memory, Perception, and Choice,” appears in Elsevier’s Journal of Retailing, June 26, 2015, with a free abstract available.


A graphical abstract of the team’s research. Image from “Music Congruity Effects on Product Memory, Perception, and Choice.

The researchers assembled various musical genres, classical, country and ethnic, and assessed semantically related concepts in memory. That is, what other words came to mind in hearing music of each sort. In turn, they measured how these word associations affect memory, judgement and product choices.

The first set of experiments had, to me, the most obvious results: Ethnic music, such as Chinese, Japanese, East Indian, reminded people of menu items from these cultures. And, once in mind, these menu recollections encouraged choosing this cuisine. Ergo, don’t hire a Bavarian oompah band for a Spanish tapa bar.

The study’s second and third phases were more subtle, assessing the congruity effects contrasting classical and country music. It’s no surprise that classical music has semantic congruence with words like sophisticated, high-toned, educated. Similarly, country music aligns with homey, basic, pragmatic.

There’s a dichotomy as well in our lives as consumers. We all make lots of purchases that are utilitarian, such as basic foodstuffs, paper towels, appliances and the like. At the other extreme, we also decide among what the researchers call “products of social identity,” expensive clothing, fancy food and wine, perfume, jewelry.

To what extent do musical congruities affect these disparate choices?

The researchers did more than identify correlations; they quantified them. For example, the presence of classical music in a store environment brought about a 13 percent increase in purchases of social-identity products. Country music increased the willingness of consumers to make utilitarian purchases.

As a separate theme entirely, another research area I’d suggest is the influence of scratchy, offensively aggressive music when a caller is put on hold. I, for one, just hang up and seek another source. How about you?

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2015

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