Speaker company Sonos recently ran a couple of studies with neuroscientist and author of ‘This is Your Brain on Music’ Daniel Levitin, aimed at figuring how music affected people within their own homes.
While any study conducted by a company standing to gain something from the results is going to attract criticism, Levitin was brought in for an experts eye and to make sure that the resulting data would be interpreted correctly and without bias.
The first study involved a global online survey of 30,000 smartphone users who lived with at least one other. But it was the second study that was by far the most interesting. The residents of 30 homes were monitored using Apple watches for biometrics such as heart rate, given iPhones to play music, and iBeacons and Nest cams for keeping track of their physical activity and whereabouts.
The study spanned two weeks, the first of which the participants would play no music, while the second week could see them play on their own accord.They found that when music was being played, people stood 12% closer to each other when they were in the same room; people spent around 37% more time awake in bed—you know what that means; music lead to 71% of kids helping clean versus only 38% of those without music; 59% of people found others to be more attractive; people were 33% more likely to cook together; 85% more likely to invite others over; 15% more likely to laugh together; and 18% more likely to say “I love you” to someone.
Levitin noted that the results clustered into three groups: intimacy, happiness, and helpfulness.
This isn’t too surprising when we look at previous studies examining how music effects the brain. People listening to music they enjoy results in several neurotransmitters being released: Dopamine, which is important for motivation; oxytocin, which is important in love and our feeling of trust and closeness to others; and serotonin, which boosts happiness and is found to be deficient in those with depression.
This particular cocktail of neurotransmitters drives us together and helps us empathize with each other. This clearly is the case in the Sonos study which had families and friends spending far more time together and in close proximity when music was playing, while more secluded and separate behavior was found when music was missing.
In an evolutionary sense, this also makes sense, given that until relatively recently music was a communal group activity. We didn’t have headphones, not everyone could play an instrument, so to enjoy music required getting together with others. Nowadays we can listen in seclusion, but this doesn’t mean our bodies and minds have lost the social appeal of it.
As Levitin notes in an interview with Billboard:
“Why do people go to clubs and concerts? You can hear music at home. You go there to hear it with other people. The idea of going to a club, it couldn't just be the great sound system. Would you go to a club if you knew that you were going to be the only one there? Maybe, but not so likely.”
Do You Like What I Like?
There’s one other important factor to consider. Not all music will bring people together and have them feeling good, the music must be something they enjoy. Now of course not all family members and friends will share the same tastes, but musical preferences have been found to relate to personality, and personality is strongly related to your genes.
This means that you might be genetically predisposed to enjoy a certain selection of music based on your family tree. Outside influences also play a role, but this genetic and personality factor would help to explain why family members are drawn together with the same music.
It’s also the case that people like other people with similar tastes—friendships are often formed based on shared interests, music included. The survey part of the Sonos study found that almost 30% of the respondents thought their partners might be lying about their music tastes help attract them.
Some people find smooth jazz relaxing, for others they turn to hard rock to chill out. When someone is forced to listen to music that doesn’t fit their mood or personality, the effects we’ve seen would be nonexistent. Families and friends share similar personalities and artistic tastes, which is essential to their coming together with the right music.
All in all, music encourages togetherness. Spending time with those whose company you enjoy is made better with music, now we have scientific evidence of how and why this is.
Written by: Sam Brinson
Sam is a writer and researcher with interests in the brain, personal development, and creative expression. He is currently writing a book on developing better learning habits—'Connecting the Dots.' You can follow him on Twitter here.