25 February 2019

Can Music Drive Success?

Poster for 1981 movie,
Chariots of Fire.
(Theme on
Welcome back. You may have forgotten the theme from Chariots of Fire, but I’ll bet most of us remember the theme from Rocky, even those who never saw the movie.

There’s no way that Rocky’s pulsating, heavy on the horns sound wouldn’t help you run faster, lift more, throw farther, climb the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art or, yes, fly, as signaled by the theme music’s name, Gonna Fly Now.

Or maybe that music wouldn’t really help.

That’s what a study by collaborators from the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics and Technical University of Berlin set out to determine.

Part of poster for 1976 movie, Rocky. (Theme on
Motivational Music
The researchers enlisted 150 participants (average age 23.4, 69% female) to examine whether listening to motivational music (1) improved ball-throwing performance, (2) enhanced self-esteem and (3) led to riskier behavior.

They had two playlists of 12 motivational music pieces compiled--one by the participants themselves, the other by three musicologists, a sound engineer and an expert on popular music. The latter playlist emphasized motivational lyrics, fast tempi, high level of energy and positive emotional expression.

Experimenter-selected playlist of motivational music (from www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.02026/full).
The participants were randomly assigned to listen to either the experimenter-selected playlist, their own playlist or no music, the control, while they completed two phases of a ball-throwing task.

Ball-Throwing Task
For the first phase, which assessed ball-throwing performance, participants threw a volleyball into a basket 10 times from 7 experimenter-defined distances, ranging from 4 to 22 feet. Average scoring ratios (scores/shots) were tallied for each participant, for each distance.

First phase of ball-throwing task (from www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.02026/full).
For the second phase, which assessed risk-taking, participants threw the ball 20 times from distances they themselves chose. Success in this phase was incentivized by awarding points and money for points based on the scoring ratios from the first phase.

The researchers also obtained background data and several subjective measures on each participant, such as previous experience in ball games (22% regularly engaged in sports that involved handling a ball) and how they perceived their ball-throwing efficacy.

Effects of Motivational Music
After ruling out significant differences related to age, gender, risk tendency and ball-throwing experience and perceived effectiveness, the researchers concluded that motivational music:

- did not influence overall ball-throwing performance, positive nor negative, though previous experience did predict performance;
- did not influence changes in self-esteem, though it did raise self-esteem among participants who were performing well in the first phase of the ball-throwing task; but
- did enhance risk-taking behavior, the effect being more pronounced with males and with self-selected playlists.

Wrap Up
Wait! What about other studies that found motivational music did indeed enhance performance?

The researchers judged the difference to be that those earlier studies focused on running or cycling, which require endurance and relatively little concentration or mental effort. In contrast, the ball-throwing task required accuracy and motor coordination, which involve more cognitive processing, mental focus and attention. Apparently, it takes more than music to improve those skills.

Send me the results if you run your own tests with or without the Rocky theme. And thanks for stopping by.

Study on effects of motivational music in sports in Frontiers in Psychology journal:  www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.02026/full
Article on study on ScienceDaily website: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180129110923.htm

A version of this blog post appeared earlier on www.warrensnotice.com.

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