Written by Luke Herald
Music is an art form that reaches infinite numbers of people. It can transcend cultural barriers and interpersonal connections, influence an individual’s mood, and even influence individuals' ways of thinking (e.g., North & Hargreaves, 2008). Music affects individuals differently and has the potential to promote and regulate relationships (Hargreaves & North, 1999). The music that we listen to often can influence our thoughts about the world around us. Music is persistent in our culture and affects and regulates interpersonal relationships to the extent that the music to which we listen can bring people together or drive them apart (North & Hargreaves, 2008). While music is very personal to many people, it has an undeniable social function that impacts nearly everyone. The three main social functions of music include its ability to regulate and create are our moods, its role in our interpersonal relationships, and its impact on our self-identity management (Hargreaves & North, 1999).
Music and Interpersonal Relationships
Music has a profound effect on people’s interpersonal relationships, regardless of whether the people are actively playing instruments or only listening to the music. Extra-curricular practices of music groups, such as a high school band, have been shown to have a positive effect on the participating band members, including the creation of friendships with like-minded people, increased confidence, and a sense of belonging. While this effect is not as strong for people who do not play instruments, music's tendency to bring us together with like-minded people and to provide us with a sense of group belonging is still evident when we listen to music (Hallam, 2010). Different kinds of music are used to influence social interaction or invoke particular feelings, including the praise of music in a church to the aggressive, head-banging rock at certain concerts (Hargreaves & North, 1999). The use of music in certain settings can change our perception of what is socially acceptable, such as loud music playing in the background while people dance, whether this be at a prom or a club. Music allows a couple to feel more private when talking and permits for a more socially acceptable way of maintaining physical contact by dancing (Hargreaves & North, 1999). Furthermore, if music is interpreted differently based on how an individual thinks and what s/he has experienced, then one's taste in music serves as an effective way for one to find other individuals who are like-minded. Researchers, such as North and Hargreaves, have referred to one's taste in music as closely resembling a badge that someone would wear to show their similarity and to learn about the personalities of others with badges (Miranda, 2013). This research lends credibility to the idea that music plays a large role in conformity, group identity, and group formation (North & Hargreaves, 2008).
Self-identity and Mood Regulation
Music is an art form that is shaped and created by individuals’ skills and imaginations. A song is influenced by an artist’s view of himself/herself and the world around him/her. Research suggests that individuals can use music to escape their perceived gender roles (Hargreaves & North, 1999). For example, a man’s gender stereotype is to remain macho and not show his emotions; however, once he picks up a guitar and sings about the tough things that have happened to him in his life, people begin applauding, and he is seen as even more macho (Hargreaves & North, 1999). There is a very distinct use of music for day to day mood management (Hargreaves & North, 1999). Individuals use music to influence their own moods and the moods of others around them. If an individual is stressed, s/he may choose to listen to some classical or slow music to calm himself/herself down, or if s/he needs to build energy for an activity, s/he may listen to an energizing mix. Music is also heavily used in marketing; stores will play music that they believe is going to raise the chances of customers coming back and spending more money at those particular stores (Areni & Kim, 1993). Spas, for example, may play soothing or tranquil music to make clients feel and become more relaxed.
Music is a powerful tool that can be used for self-expression, building an individual’s self-image, or even influencing his/her mood. Music is used by most cultures, whether it be for entertainment, mood regulation, religious purposes, or national pride. Because nearly everyone is impacted by music, we should continue researching and gaining awareness on the extent that music influences us and the world around us. The more that we understand the full extent of music’s persuasive power, the more that we will be able to utilize it.
Hargreaves, D. J., & North, A. C. (1999). The functions of music in everyday life: Redefining the social in music psychology. Psychology of Music, 27, 71-83.
North, A. C., & Hargreaves, D. J. (2008). The social and applied psychology of music / Adrian C. North and David J. Hargreaves. New York : Oxford University Press, c2008.
Hallam, S. (2010). The power of music: Its impact on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people. International Journal Of Music Education, 28(3), 269-289. doi:10.1177/0255761410370658
Miranda, D. (2013). The role of music in adolescent development: Much more than the same old song. International Journal Of Adolescence And Youth, 18(1), 5-22. doi:10.1080/02673843.2011.650182
Charles S. Areni and David Kim (1993) ,"The Influence of Background Music on Shopping Behavior: Classical Versus Top-Forty Music in a Wine Store", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 336-340.
Dr. H. Colleen Sinclair
Social Psychologist, Relationships Researcher,
Ms. Chelsea Ellithorpe
Lab Manager of the Social Relations Collaborative and Blog Editor