Recent reports from Finland and Israel make bold claims about the power of music.

The term ‘the power of music’ usually implies positive qualities: its ability to stimulate, motivate, or soothe. But two recent studies may have music lovers worried. They claim that listening to our favourite music may subconsciously increase gambling tendencies and also lead to unethical and uncharacteristic behaviour.

In Finland, Helsinki’s Aalto University conducted a study on a group of teenagers and invited them all to take part in a gambling game. The stakes were low but while doing it, music they liked was played in the background for a quarter of the time, music they disliked for another quarter and for the rest of the time the game was played in silence.

The findings, as reported in the online journal PLoS One, stated that, compared to silence, the sound of their favourite songs increased risk-taking, while listening to the music they didn’t like decreased it. There are no current psychological theories on mood and risk-taking to explain the results but the study suggests that we find the idea of obtaining money more pleasurable if we’re listening to a tune we like, which makes us more likely to take a risk to satisfy that desire.

Another study by an Israeli researcher, Naomi Ziv, recently published in the Psychology of Music journal concluded that music is powerful enough to throw our moral compasses off-balance and can lead us to making decisions which we would generally see as ethically wrong.

Ziv’s research was carried out on 120 university students who were asked to carry out a mundane written task for 90 seconds and then they were asked to tell a lie about a certain scenario to another student. One-quarter of the study were kept in silence, while the other students were played upbeat music. Interestingly, 65.6 percent of those who had the music in the background agreed to do it, compared to only 40 percent of those who had been working in silence. And, on a second occasion where the stakes were slightly higher, 80 percent of those who were listening to music agreed to do it, whilst only 33 percent of those working in silence would.

Whilst no one is casting any doubt on the moral integrity of any Limelight readers, these recent findings are certainly interesting ones to reflect on. Perhaps even, if we dare, with some favourite music playing in the background!