The relationship between music, its instrumentation and mood are well known. One study has actually determined that those listening to happy music tend to have a happier mood and are more relaxed. Music has also recently been observed to enhance physical health and overall well-being among older adults.
What’s more, one recent study has also found that playing happy music can affect writing productivity. In a paper that was published by two researchers at the University of California – Riverside, the authors write those sad songs may impair memory ability. “Tunes with lyrics containing sad or angry words were better matched for poor memory than doing songs that only featured happy and positive lyrics,” they write. The same current study goes on to say that the impact of the lyrics to the memory was not significant, but the effect on writing output was profound.
What is this current study about?
The researchers conducted a battery of tests, looking at how mood and productivity affected a sample of high school students. They used word list exercises, rating scales, and questionnaires. The tests measured how long it took the participants to type their answers, how much it took them to read the questions, how many errors they made in spelling, and what their word count was. At the end of the testing period, they had a battery of tests in order to see how well the participants matched to a specific word list, their word count, and their mood during testing.
Their first test was a Korean first language reading task, which involved them being given a list of words and their translations. For example, one word would be happy, another sad and so on. Then they would have to match the word with the translation given, as they were told at the beginning of the study not to look for connections between words. But what does this mean for how can happy music affect your mood?
It turns out that while both Korean and English participants showed a significant effect on how long it took for them to read the words, there was a different pattern by music. In the Korean test, participants who listened to sad music had an increased fixation time, a stronger preference for certain letters and a greater number of errors when spelling the words. This suggests that the participants were under more stress. In the English test, participants listening to happy music had a significantly lower fixation time, a weaker preference for certain letters and an increase in fewer spelling mistakes. So it seems that while the participants’ mood states did contribute to the difference in word length, the direction of that change was not related to their mood state.
The second study found that while the participants did not favor the English songs they heard, they did prefer instrumental music to the native language songs they heard. So this study found a connection between the two elements that had been identified previously. The participants also showed a significant preference for the instrumental songs, even when the tempo and key were the same. And the effect was even more pronounced among native language songs, where the instrumental music made up over 60% of the entire song.
The third study found no significant difference in how long it took for participants to remember the words or the test items after hearing them. They just seemed to have an easier time assimilating the information. This last result is probably because the participants’ mood states did not significantly affect the way they absorbed the information. Their memories of the information were therefore not as strong as those of someone in a much better mood state.
These results show that the direction of mood state is not always a reliable cue to music’s effect on mood. More research is needed, but we do know that certain types of music elicit specific reactions in listeners. The emotional content of a song can evoke certain emotions and can influence our behavior. But what exactly does that mean? Do specific types of music actually have an influence on our mood? That seems to be the question that continues to puzzle researchers.