Music selection may depend on several factors, not just pleasure

December 11, 2002

Because people are fairly accurate in predicting which music will be most pleasurable to them, they should be given choices when music is being used to manage their moods and emotions, as in hospital rooms or during therapy, a Penn State study says.

"Data from our analysis suggest that, while anticipated pleasure is a key reason for choice of music, Americans will also pick music to enhance mood or will match their musical selection with a specific activity such as jogging, aerobic dancing or reading a favorite book, says Dr. Valerie N. Stratton, associate professor of psychology at Penn State's Altoona Campus.

Study participants also listed time of day and other people present as determinants in choosing a particular kind of music, she adds. People are also capable of changing their minds about a song they initially dislike, notes co-author Annette H. Zalanowski, associate professor of music at Penn State's Altoona Campus. The researchers tested 20 study participants to see if, once they selected a musical piece based on pleasure, they still liked it after a specific period of listening. In most cases, they did. At the same time, however, participants listening to music they thought they wouldn't like, reported a higher degree of actual pleasure than what they anticipated.

Stratton and Zalanowski summarized their findings in their paper, "Anticipated Pleasure, Choice and Actual Enjoyment of Music," presented recently at the annual meeting of the American Music Therapy Association in Atlanta. Their study is on-going and the researchers will continue to explore this topic.

The researchers listed 30 musical selections in alphabetical order for their sample group. The genres of music included rock, pop, oldies, jazz, classical, country, ballads and blues.

"Participants in the study were given the list of musical selections and asked to rate how much pleasure they thought they would receive from listening to each one," says Stratton. "We employed a 10-point rating system, ranging from 'no pleasure' to 'the most pleasure I could get from music.'

"The average rating for the selection chosen as the one participants most wanted to listen to was 8.85, while the average rating for the least desired selection was 2.75," Zalanowski says. "The group of participants who listened to the most wanted selection had rated the piece 8.5 prior to listening and rated it 8.25 after listening."

The group that listened to their least wanted selection rated the piece 3.0 before listening and 4.1 after, which represented a significant change of opinion, according to Zalanowski.

"The results are consistent with other non-music studies on decision-making which look at the role of emotion in making choices," Stratton notes. "Remaining questions include what makes a particular piece of music pleasurable for a particular person, and what are the various forms pleasure may take in music-listening."

Penn State

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