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Can Music Affect How Much We Trust?

You don’t need research to tell you that listening to an upbeat tune will improve your mood, behavior and emotions as opposed to listening to a rather solemn one, but Drexel University professor David Gefen of the LeBow College of Business has taken this observation one step further to find out if music plays a role in how much you trust. In the latest issue of LeBow’s Market Street magazine, Gefen talked to editor Leda Kopach about how he explored the relationship between music and trust.

Gefen teamed up with researchers at Drexel’s School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems to study the neural correlates of music and trusting behavior. In their study they asked subjects to play a series of multi-stage computer-simulated trust games with another player. To motivate the subjects, they were allowed to keep their winnings up to a given amount. The simulation automatically and randomly behaved as a people typically do, most of time reciprocating in a trustworthy manner but every now and then cheating a little. As the subjects played each of the trust games they were exposed to one of three treatments: a melancholy piano piece Musical Moment Number 3 in F minor by Schubert, a lively Marches Militaires piano piece also by Schubert, or no music at all.

As the subjects played these games their prefrontal cortex activities were recorded using functional near-infrared (fNIR) spectroscopy. The fNIR device consists of a headband with LEDs emitting light at the spectrums of oxygenated and deoxygenated red blood cells and sensors that pick up the light that is reflected back from the prefrontal cortex regions of their brain. Because red blood cells release their oxygen at a higher rate when there is increased activity, researchers can monitor the changes in the ratio of the colors of oxygenated and deoxygenated red blood cells to identify regions that are more active.

The researchers found that when subjects heard the melancholy piano piece, they invested on average less than when there was no music at all, but that this change in behavior did not occur when they heard lively piano music. To understand why this is so, the researchers inspected the fNIR recordings of their brain activity and discovered an equivalent change in the recorded activity in the right dorsal region of the prefrontal cortex. The slow piano music that led the subjects to invest less also induced reduced activity in this brain region. Since this brain region partly overlaps with Brodmann Area 9 an area of the brain that is associated with “increased behavioral inhibition of voluntary behavior,” it may be, Gefen told Market Street, that at least some types of music may reduce inhibition to respond when others behave in an untrustworthy manner.

Bottom line, trust is critical not only in personal relationships but also in the business environment, according to Gefen. His advice to investment advisors who are delivering bad news to their clients: Play happy music, not slow music, because slow music in that case may cause clients to invest less moving forward.

To read the full story click on the link to Market Street.

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