Asked what music she listened to before competing in the 2012 Olympics, gold medal sprinter Allyson Felix said Beyoncé, “I’m a Diva.”
Thinking of athletes like Allyson Felix whom we see listening to music before starting a race, a group of business school researchers wondered about the broader implications. They wanted to test whether the power of music could have an impact in the workplace.
In the first step of their experiment, participants were asked to rate music on an “empowerment scale” of 1 to 7. The goal was to identify songs that made people feel dominant, powerful and determined. To compare responses in subsequent parts of the experiment, they also created a “low-power” list.
The top 3 power songs were:
- “We Will Rock You” (Queen)
- “Get Ready For This” (2 Unlimited)
- “in Da Club” (50 Cent)
The top 3 low-power songs:
- “Because We Can” (Fatboy Slim)
- “Who Let the Dogs Out” (Baha Men)
- “Big Poppa” (Notorious B.I.G.)
Next, a different group of participants were given words to complete while listening to the selected songs. Among the “power listeners” who were given p_ _er, the finished words included stronger vocabulary like “power.” By contrast, the low-power listeners noted blander choices like “paper.”
Other parts of the experiment involved decision-making. In a debate, would you go first? Negotiating, will you take charge? Asked to roll some dice, will you let someone else do it for you? And yes, those listening to the high-power playlist were almost twice as likely (34% of the time) to take the initiative as the low-power control group (20%).
The Bottom Line: Our Human Capital
So, where does all of this take us? We are really talking about how music can empower our human capital. Composed of the learning we take to every job, our human capital can be energized and inspired for interviews, business presentations and whenever we need to perform optimally.
Our bottom line: Increasingly, the study of human capital is about more than markets and incentives. It takes us to physiology, psychology, our neurological hardwiring and behavioral economics.