Psychology of Music: Can Soothing Music Increase Helping?

By Brad Bell

You have been listening to soothing music while reading a book.  You go to answer the phone.  It is a volunteer who is asking you to donate to a nonprofit.  You are feeling happy and relaxed.  You agree to donate 10 dollars to the organization.  Did listening to the soothing music influence your decision to donate to the organization?

Fried and Berkowitz (1979) investigated the influence of music on helping behavior.  The participants were college students.  There were four groups in their experiment. One group did not listen to music.  The other groups listened to either soothing music, aversive music, or stimulating music.  In this experiment, the participants first completed a mood questionnaire.  For the participants in one of the three music conditions, they completed the mood questionnaire before and after hearing the music.  In the no music condition, the participants also completed the mood questionnaire twice, but sat in silence for seven minutes.  After this, all participants were asked by the experimenter if they would be willing to participate in another experiment.

Fried and Berkowitz found that people who listening to the soothing music were more likely to agree to the experimenter’s request (to participate in another experiment) than people who did not listen to music. They also found that the mean amount of time volunteered was greater for people who listened to soothing music than for people who did not listen to music. Fried and Berkowitz found that the stimulating music and the aversive music did not increase helping. The differences between the stimulating music group and the no music group were not statistically significant with respect to the percentage of people helping and the amount of time volunteered.  Moreover, the differences between the aversive music group and the no music group were not statistically significant with respect to the percentage of people helping and the amount of time volunteered. (1)

These findings may have important practical implications. Helping behavior may be increased by listening to soothing music.  Fundraising events could involve soothing music.

Notes

1. North, Tarrant, and Hargreaves (2004) also conducted a study involving music and helping behavior.  Their study involved uplifting and annoying music. However, their study did not have a no music condition.  Thus, it is unclear whether the uplifting music had increased helping behavior.

References

Fried, R., & Berkowitz, L.  (1979).  Music hath charms…and can influence helpfulness.  Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 9, 199-208.
North, A. C., Tarrant, M., & Hargreaves, D. J. (2004).  The effects of music on helping behavior:  A field study. Environment and Behavior36, 266-275.