As a youngster I would regularly compete in swimming races, and a crucial part of the pre-race build up would be to ensure you were in exactly the right frame of mind to compete as well as possible. Music would often play a considerable role in this, and I would try and find music that would motivate me for the challenge ahead.
It’s well known that music plays a big role on our mood and our behaviour. Restaurants for instance have regularly used music to influence our behaviours, with faster music used to speed up our eating in fast food restaurants.
It’s increasingly common to see office workers connected up to some form of musical device. So what music is best for powering us through the day? That was the question posed by a recent study that was published in the academic journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
The research itself had a sporting background to it, with the academics intrigue piqued by the ritual many athletes go through of using music to prepare for their events. As they exlaim in the paper:
“When watching major sports events, my coauthors and I frequently noticed athletes with their earphones on while entering the stadium and in the locker room."
"The ways these athletes immerse themselves in the music — some with their eyes steely shut and some gently nodded along to the beats — it seems as if the music is mentally preparing and toughening them up for the competition about to occur.”
It’s perhaps not in dispute that music makes a difference, but the researchers wanted to delve into what kind of music made the biggest impact, and why that is the case.
To do this they tested 31 clips for their impact on our motivation. They were then able to rank these clips from most motivational (Queen’s We Will Rock You) to least motivational (Who Let the Dogs Out by Baha Men).
What makes a song motivational?
With that broad league table determined, they set about trying to understand what components of a song make it motivational. The first conclusion they came to was that the lyrics seemed to make little difference (sorry Bob Dylan fans).
"Because participants did not report increased powerful feelings after reading the lyrics, we can rule out the semantic priming effect of lyrics in the selected songs,” they explain.
What does make a big difference however is the amount of bass a track includes. They composed a new piece of music that had a digitally enhanced amount of bass in it and compared how listeners responded to that versus a less bass-heavy piece of music.
Lo and behold, it emerged that the tune with the big bass line was most effective at inducing feelings of power in listeners. Which is pretty interesting. So if you want to up your motivation before a big meeting or whatever else you may need psyching up for, plug yourself into something deep and booming on your headphones.
Or you could try We Will Rock You if you prefer.