60-Second Science

Pump Up the Bass—and Maybe Your Confidence

Study volunteers who had listened to bass-heavy music were more likely to act dominant or aggressive in games and debates. Erika Beras reports

We all have those confidence-surging songs we listen to before a big event.  Now researchers say that the lyrics are not necessarily what make us feel dominant—it’s the booming bass. That’s according to a study in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science. [Dennis Y. Hsu et al, The Music of Power: Perceptual and Behavioral Consequences of Powerful Music]

Certain types of music, such as heavy metal and hip-hop, make people feel powerful and aggressive. To find out why, researchers had people listen to dozens of songs. Then they asked how powerful the participants felt while listening. Topping the list for imbuing a sense of strength: Queen’s anthem "We Will Rock You."  At the bottom? Baha Men’s questioning "Who Let the Dogs Out?". 

The researchers then had subjects listen to the songs and do some tests. In one, the volunteers were told they could win money if they predicted the outcome of a die roll, either by a third-party or themselves. Even though the outcome would be random in either case, those who had listened to bass-heavy music were more likely to want to be the one to roll the die. 

In other tests, participants listening to bass-heavy music picked more powerful words when doing word exercises and were more likely to want to go first in debates. So, if you want a power boost , try just pumping up the bass.

—Erika Beras 

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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