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Music is the food of love, or so the expression goes. It could also make you more creative, more productive or even help you get a better job, according to the latest business school research.

A group of academics from the Kellogg School of Management, Insead and Columbia Business School were drawn to the topic through their love of sport and their interest in the music that is played at sporting events. “We often take for granted that music is powerful and transformative – but is it?” asks Derek Rucker, professor of entrepreneurial studies in marketing at Kellogg, who also analyses the success of advertising campaigns during Super Bowl games. “Can music really transform the psyche?”

In a series of studies the researchers asked participants to rate how powerful, dominant and determined they felt while listening to different genres of music – jazz, pop, classical, heavy metal and so on. They also investigated what the effect was if they played the same piece of music to participants but with varied levels of bass.

When a piece of music makes people feel powerful, says Prof Rucker, they feel more confident, even though they have no more control. He says the song We Will Rock You by Queen is an example of a piece of music that is very powerful.

Perhaps more surprising was the effect of the varied levels of bass. “If you crank up the bass, bass empowers people,” he says, adding that a dominant bass line makes people feel more confident.

The findings have implications for both individuals and companies, says Prof Rucker. “What is the role of music when the user knows what they are doing, when they are trying to psyche up for an interview, for example? How can they use music selectively?”

Prof Rucker believes many companies are aware of the issues and are very selective in the way they use music in their environments. But he says the research is just the first step in opening up study in these issues. In particular, he is keen to find out whether playing certain types of music will make people more creative, or more willing to make quick decisions. The researchers are also interested in what kind of music leads to higher-level thinking – being able to see the wood from the trees.

The research, to be published in Social Psychology and Personality Science. was conducted by Kellogg School of Management professors Dennis Hsu, Derek Rucker, Loran Nordgren and Li Huang of Insead as well as Adam Galinksy, professor of business at Columbia Business School.

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