The Effects of Music on Temporary Disposition
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
JOHNSON, F. D. (2001). The Effects of Music on Temporary Disposition. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 4. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

The Effects of Music on Temporary Disposition

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (
The primary focus of this study was to establish what effect, if any, different types of music would have on temporary disposition. Specifically, it was hypothesized that different types of music would have either a positive or negative affect on participants’ responses to a semantic differential scale for a neutral picture. For this study, 26 males and 9 female college students were separated into four groups and placed in a classroom where either aggressive, somber, uplifting, or no music was being played at a low, but audible volume. They then used a semantic differential scale to evaluate an ambiguous stimulus, the Mona Lisa. Participants were deceived into believing the study was a replication of another study not relating to music. The data partially supported the hypothesis, and also found a significant difference between mean scores for males and females.

Throughout much of the 20th century, it has been suspected different genres of music may have different effects of the moods and dispositions of their respective listeners. With the advent of each new wave of music in our own culture has come the fear that each unfamiliar style of music might have adverse affects on the dispositions and moods of society’s youth. The respective explosions of jazz music during the 1920’s, Elvis Pressley during the 1950’s, and the Rock ‘n Roll of the Hippies during the 1970’s all came under suspicion by society for fear that they might cause adverse affects in the temporary and long term dispositions of their young listeners. Even more recently, for example, it has been insinuated with incidents such as the recent shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado that music with strong messages of hate and violence influenced the two youths to perform their heinous acts of murder and suicide. But, can music really be held responsible for altering the disposition of its listeners according to its genre and tone? And if so, what elements of music are responsible for this type of effect?It has been said that one of the most powerful aspects of music is its verbal message. In 1995,Ballard and Coates conducted an experiment in which 175 psychology students at Appalachian State University volunteered for an experiment that they were deceived into believing was an experiment on music type and memory for lyrics. Each group of 10 students listened to a 30-second segment from one of six songs that had categorized as either rap or heavy metal. Each segment contained a portion of the verse and chorus from the respective songs and was classified on the basis of its nonviolent, homicidal, or suicidal content. The participants listened to the song segments twice. Upon hearing their respective segments, they were asked to complete several tests including a Memory-for-lyrics test, State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory, Beck Depression Inventory, Self-Esteem Scale, and Adult Suicidal Ideation Questionnaire. The results from the study concluded that the lyrical content of heavy metal and rap have an immediate effect on adolescents according to the state mood questionnaires; that is to say that those participants who listened to the music with violent lyrical content reported more aggressive responses on the questionnaires while those who heard music with non-violent lyrical content seemed to experience a more positive affect according to their questionnaires (Ballard & Coates, 1995). But, aside from lyrical content, there are other aspects of a musical piece that elicit certain emotional responses. For instance, Dowling and Harwood, in their research on music tempo and mood, asked participants to rate on a Likert scale how much they favored different pieces of music that were manipulated in terms of tempo and rhythm. They were able to conclude that music with a fast tempo (i.e. between 70 – 110 beats per minute) and a smooth-flowing rhythm produced more joyous feelings in participants than music with a slower tempo and firm rhythm. The tempo and rhythm of the music also serve to affect the degree of agreeibility of the listener (Dowling & Harwood, 1986).In terms of ambiguous situations, it has been hypothesized that different types of music, as characterized by their emotional state-inducing content (i.e. music with happy, somber, aggressive tone, etc.…) will influence a participant’s response when evaluating an ambiguous stimulus. In an experiment involving ambiguous portions of television dramas and their respective musical scores, Vinovich(1975) administered the same video portion with different musical scores to each of 52 participants. The video contained a dramatic scene with ambiguous action and the musical score was adjusted to set either a hostile, serene, or uplifting tone. As a result, each viewer created their own interpretations of the video drama that logically matched the feeling produced by the musical score.Much of this aforementioned research was tested by Rodriguez in 1998 whose research attempted to prove that different types of music will have either a positive or negative effect on a participant’s interpretation of an ambiguous piece of art work. Rogriguez placed 42 psychology students into three separate groups, and had them evaluate, by means of his own questionnaire, a painting with ambiguous content known as Vacuum-Packed Fresh Pork under one of three conditions: happy music, depressing music, or no music. Rodriguez results stated that the group who listened to the depressing music while evaluating the picture had a more morose evaluation than those of the groups with either happy or no music. A review of the research done of music, mood, marketing by Bruner in 1990 stated that humans non-randomly assign emotional meaning to music, experience nonrandom affective reactions to music, and that music used in marketing techniques is capable of evoking non-random behavioral and affective reactions in humans (Bruner, 1990). An example of this non-random affect of music on shoppers is found in the research done by Smith and Curnow (1996). These researchers manipulated the volume of music in two grocery stores so that they played either softly or loudly and then measured the customers’ satisfaction with the music, average sales per person, and shopping time. Their results found that while customer satisfaction and sales per person were not affected, the average number of sales per minute did increase with the volume of the music.The aforementioned experiments illustrate the dynamic nature of music’s effect of human behavior and disposition. The lyrical content, tempo, and rhythm all serve to evoke different emotional responses that are concurrent with the emotional content of the song. Not only does music shape how we feel, but it shapes how we perceive ambiguous situation. The knowledge of the power of music is often times used to direct our thoughts and feelings towards a given stimulus.This research sought to demonstrate the extent music can be used to affect an individual’s perception of an ambiguous stimulus. This quasi-experiment operated under the hypothesis that each of three types of music will cause a separate, and distinct difference in participants’ evaluation of an ambiguous face, the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci. Specifically, it was hypothesized that uplifting music would lead to a more cheerful evaluation of the painting, somber music will lead to a more depressing evaluation, and aggressive music will elicit a more aggressive evaluation.


35 college students from Loyola University New Orleans participated in this study. They were recruited as part of a convenience sample with the incentive of extra credit in their respective psychology classes for taking part in the study. The participants ranged in age from 18 – 22 years old with 26 males and 9 females.

The materials used an 8 ½” by 11” black and white picture of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci. This picture was selected because of the subject’s ambiguous facial expression which could be interpreted in different ways by participants according to their own perception as affected by the background music in the room. The music in the testing room fell into three categories: aggressive, somber, and happy. One type of music was played for each of three groups, excluding the control which received no music. The aggressive category included “Guerrilla Radio”, “People of the Sun”, “Calm Like a Bomb”, and “Bulls on Parade” by Rage Against the Machine. The somber category included “Time of Your Life” by Green Day, “Change” by Blind Melon , “Walk on the Ocean” by Toad the Wet Sprocket, “Hands” by Jewel, “Baby Can I Hold You Tonight” by Tracy Chapman. The happy category included “The Mindstraights”, “You Jane Me Funky”, “Funky 97”, “Pass the Vibe”, “Whose Loadin`” by The Five Fingers of Funk. A questionnaire with both demographic questions and a semantic differential scale that had words associated to each respective disposition was also included. The aggressive group included the words excited, anxious, and angry. The somber group included the words somber, hopeless, pensive, calm, and peaceful. The happy group included the words proud, excited, joyous, and content. The scale also contained words used to establish the participants current mood as happy (words used included happy, calm, and relaxed), sad (word used included sad), or aggressive (words used included aggressive and excited). Other materials included an informed consent form and a Compaq Presario computer with speakers on which the music was played.

This research was a single variable between subjects quasi experiment design with a control group receiving no music during the experiment. The research measured the effect the different types of music had on the participants` respective performances on the semantic differential scale.Students were tested in groups designated by the time slots they signed up for in their psychology classes. They arrived at the testing site where music from one of the three genres, happy, somber, or aggressive, was playing softly, but audibly in the background. The students were seated and informed that they would be participating in the replication of an experiment done in 1985 on the temporary disposition of college students. Once all of the participants from a given group had arrived, they were each given an informed consent form and questionnaire to complete. The participants were given time to read and sign the consent forms and were asked to complete the questionnaires once all of the consent forms had been collected. The first page of the questionnaire contained demographic questions. The next set of questions were used to establish the student’s current disposition by means of a semantic differential scale. The third and final set of questions pertained to the student’s evaluation of a picture of the Mona Lisa. Once all of the students had completed the questionnaire and they were collected, they were debriefed and informed how the music in the background had been used to influence their mood and that the questionnaire was used to measure the music’s affect of their temporary disposition.

This experiment sought to illustrate the effect that music has on temporary disposition. The mean score for participants’ current mood was 14.51(with higher values being more positive) and the mean score for the affected mood as 28(with higher values being more positive). Table 1 shows the mean scores and standard deviations for each testing group.A one-way analysis of variance compared mean affected mood scores for the control, aggressive, uplifting, and sober groups. This was not found to be statistically significant, (F (3,31) = .650, p = .589). Since p was greater than .05, the null hypothesis could not be rejected. A second analysis of variance compared the affected mood scores for each reported type of music preferred by participants. This was not found to be statistically significant, (F (4,30) = 1.056, p = .395). Since p was greater than .05, the null hypothesis could not be rejected.However, a mean difference was found between the control and aggressive groups, the somber and uplifting groups, and the control and uplifting groups for question 5 of the affective portion of the semantic differential scale (Pensive vs. Bored). A Pairwise comparison found the mean difference between the control and aggressive groups to be 1.20, p = .015, for the somber and uplifting groups, it was –1.60, p = .009, and for the control and uplifting groups, it was –2.30, p = .00. Since p was less than .05 for each of these comparisons, the null hypothesis could be rejected.A secondary analysis of the research data also found a mean difference for males and females on affected mood. The mean affected score for males in the experiment was 29.98 while, for females, it was 24.83. The mean difference was 5.142. An independent samples t-test found this difference to be statistically significant, (t (33) = 2.628, p = .013). Since this p fell below .05, the null hypothesis can be rejected.

The data collected in this study failed to fully support the research hypothesis that proposed that different types of music would have either a positive or negative affect on participants’ responses to a semantic differential scale. In the sample of 35 college students, significant mean difference was found between the control and aggressive groups, the somber and uplifting groups, and the control and uplifting groups for their responses on the affective portion of the semantic differential scale rating how bored or pensive the Mona Lisa looked. These findings do indicate that the type of music played in the classroom may have affected responses on the differential scale, but since a significant mean difference was not found between all of the groups, our research hypothesis still cannot be rejected fully. A possible explanation for our inability to fully reject the null hypothesis could be that the type of music preferred by a participant might have a more substantial affect on their temporary disposition and may serve to counteract the disposition we were trying to elicit by playing a given genre of music. This is to say that if a person prefers somber music, it may have created a more positive effect on their mood instead of creating a more depressed mood as the research was designed to do. However, our second analysis of variance comparing affected mood scores between participants grouped by type of music preferred reported similar scores between groups. Our research data and implications only partially support other research in the field. Prior research done by Bruner (1990) indicates that humans non-randomly assign emotional meaning to music and experience non-random affective reactions to music. However, the results from our research do not account for a difference in affective mood between the aggressive and somber groups, the aggressive and uplifting groups, nor the somber and control groups. These findings do not serve to negate the work of other researchers on the topic of music and disposition. Our failure to reject the null hypothesis may have been due to certain limitations in our research design which must be considered. First, due to our use of convenience sample, it was difficult to recruit equal numbers of men and women who may have served to distort the mean of the affected score; our secondary analysis of the data proved that there was a significant difference in the mean scores for males and females. Also, the sheer number of participants that actually showed up for the study may have prevented our attainment of a significant difference in scores between all of the groups. With a larger sample size, the variance between the groups may have been greater, yielding a complete rejection of the null hypothesis. Secondly, the brevity of our questionnaire may have prevented the acquisition of a more precise evaluation of the temporary disposition of the respective participants. The limited number and nature of the question may have made it rather obvious as to what we were trying to measure in our research. This may have thwarted the deception we were trying to utilize in the study.Thirdly, or choice of the Mona Lisa as an ambiguous stimulus may have been faulty. The facial expression on the subject, while rather blank, still seems to bear a bit of a smile, which may have influence the responses of the participants. Rodriguez (1998) used a picture of ambiguous action in his research where one could see individuals in the painting either helping or hurting another. Perhaps a picture more along those lines would have less influential than the Mona Lisa on our participants’ responses. Finally, the volumes of the music was a major limitation for the study. It was difficult to find an appropriate volume of the music for the room because students were seated in a dispersed manner throughout the classroom. For some students, the music may have been too loud while for others it was barely audible. For those seated furthest away from the music speakers, the type of music may not have even been a factor in their evaluation of the Mona Lisa. Future research is still needed on the subject of music’s effect on temporary disposition. Since our mood often times affects our willingness to either help or to not help others in need, it would be beneficial to see if music could be used to increases levels of altruism in people. Future research should also be devoted to determining whether or not prolonged exposure to a certain genre of music can have a long-term effect on disposition and altruism, which would be beneficial to society in general. Also, more knowledge on the topic of music and disposition should be done with depressed individuals to see if it can relieve some of the symptoms of depression both temporarily and permanently. Such research may help to lower suicide rates significantly, since many suicides are the result of extremely negative temporary moods.

Ballard, M. & Coates S. (1995). The Immediate Effects of Homicidal, Suicidal, and Nonviolent Heavy Metal and Rap Songs on the Moods of College Students. Youth & Society, 85, 148 – 167.Bruner, G. (1990), Music, Mood, and Marketing. Journal of Marketing. 94 – 105.Dowling, W. & Harwood, D. (1986). Music Cognition. Orlando, FL: Academic Press, Inc.Rodriguez, J. (1998), The Melancholy of Human Perception., George. “The Communicative Significance of Musical Affect in Eliciting Differential Perception, Cognition, and Emotion in Sound-Motion Media Messages,” (Doctoral dissertation, University of Southern California, 1975).

Submitted 5/10/01 9:26:10 AM
Last Edited 5/10/01 11:47:34 AM
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