Thursday, 2 February 2012

Dr Vicky Williamson / What can science bring to music strategy?



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Why Psychology is important to music...


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One question that might be on your mind is what can science bring to music strategy?
My name is Dr Vicky Williamson and I am an academic music psychologist and Immedia’s Scientific Advisor. The aim of this blog is to introduce you to the fascinating world of music psychology; my discipline and my passion, and to demonstrate why this new and exciting science has the potential to take music strategy to a new level.

Psychology is the study of human beings; how we behave, how we feel and how our minds work. Music psychology aims to understand our mind and behaviour with reference to one of our most powerful, regular and unique activities – producing and listening to music.

Music is an essential component of human life. There is not a single known human society on earth that does not use music in one form or another, and our love of music is completely unique in the animal world. Other animals use pitch and timbre to communicate simple messages (sometimes refer to as ‘song’) but we are the only being that engages in creative and spontaneous musical behaviours in order to influence our state of mind and body.

And we have been musical for a very long time. Archaeologists have discovered bone flutes, carved with great skill and dexterity, that date back 35,000 years. And of course this is likely to be an underestimate in the age of music use; most modern tribes create instruments from biodegradable materials which disappear quickly in archaeological terms. Evidence from fossilised skeletons suggests that humans had developed the bone structure necessary to be able to communicate using musical vocal sounds and gesture over one million years ago.

A key part of human existence

So music is not just a modern creation, expression or commercial activity. It has been a part of our lives for so long that it has become a key part of human existence and this is reflected in our minds and bodies. Neuroscience studies show that music is capable of activating the oldest reward centres of our brain. It can energise us for challenging mental and physical situations, including work and exercise. And it can relax and soothe us, from the time that we are infants through to the end of life.

Furthermore, music can have a large impact on our reactions to everyday environments, including our own homes and cars but, importantly for music strategy, on our behaviours inside and reactions towards shops, restaurants and other commercial premises.  

But let’s not go too far! Music is not any kind of magic elixir for persuasion. Hearing a piece of music will not convince someone to do something that they do not want to do. But it is true that music it is an essential and too often overlooked factor in how we react to an environment, whether we are a customer, a worker, a resident or just passing by.

After all, our auditory environment is not something we can avoid (i.e. our ears cannot be closed!). If we are not happy with the sound around us then our only option is to walk away. Music strategy is about understanding how to maximise an auditory environment for a specific setting whereby an individual in that space is comfortable, relaxed and engaged.

Our musical reactions are based on millions of years of evolved behaviours, such that many of our brain responses are fast, automatic, and beyond our control. The benefits to understanding the potential influence of music on behaviour and thought processes are significant and immediate. By careful application of music strategy we can improve our sound environments for the better, an activity which benefits everyone who inhabits those spaces.  


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