Companies have done a lot of work to optimize music in retail shops to encourage customers to buy more stuff — think of the smooth, just-quirky-enough tunes quietly playing at any given Starbucks, or whatever sonic garbage the Abercrombie store at the mall is always blasting when you walk by.
Wow and I thought I was a heartless elitist. I've got nothin' on this writer. You hear that "Abercrombie?" You're playing "sonic garbage." What do you mean you can't hear me over the ringing of the cash register?
But there has been less research done on the effect these soundscapes have on employees.
How does it impact the expendable warm bodies and hand-pairs responsible for folding the sweaters and stuffing the register we already mentioned? What do you mean you don't care?
So a group of Cornell PhDs got together and ran an experiment to see how different music types affected the collaborative behavior of different groups of people.
We were, like, just hangin' round at the Big Red and figured we'd, you know, get together and examine music and collaborative behavior or whatevs.
They recruited 188 undergrads to take part in a "voluntary contribution mechanism" (VCM) experiment, a well-established tool that researchers use to measure and manipulate cooperative behavior among research subjects.
Please watch this video of World War 2 atrocities while we play Beethoven and inject you with sickness chemicals.
Here's where things get interesting: Different types of music were randomly assigned to play for different groups of students. A third of the groups listened to a playlist of "happy" music while the experiment ran: "Yellow Submarine," "Walking on Sunshine," "Brown-Eyed Girl" and the theme from "Happy Days."
It's a sin! You can't use Vanny Morr in this! A sin! *vomits*
Another third listened to a playlist of two "unhappy" songs by relatively obscure metal groups: "Smokahontas" by Attack Attack and "You Ain't No Family" by Iwrestledabearonce.
Sorry Attack Squared, you're an obscure group making "unhappy" music.
"We found significantly and persistently higher levels of cooperative behavior by participants who were played Happy music when compared with the other two conditions," the researchers wrote.
It's appears you fragile and disgusting humans have so-called "emotions" that influence your ability to work with your fellow flesh sacks.
No, this isn't a shampoo commercial for Generation Sissy.
The people listening to thrash metal, on the other hand, were only contributing 40 percent to the group.
Yeah, trash metal. I honestly thought it was "Exodus" in that hair-care picture above.
It's worth pointing out that the task the students were performing was a fairly abstract one.
So let's not start burning Beatles records just yet.
Is it better to optimize for playlists that can get customers to buy more, or that can get employees to sell better? For that, more research is needed.
And, of course, more funding.
Aaron Zehner is the author of "The Foolchild Invention" available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.