Study suggests listeners like new music less than they say they do

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Familiarity may breed contempt — but not when it comes to music.

Coming from the kid who grew up listening pretty much exclusively to Peter, Paul & Mary, this probably doesn’t mean much: but apparently I’m not the only one who prefers familiar music to new stuff.

A new study published in the journal Marketing Letters found that while people indicate on surveys that they would prefer for radio stations to play more new music, when given choices they almost exclusively select to listen to songs they already know.

This corroborates findings in neuroscience studies that pleasure and emotion-seeking regions of the brain are more active when participants listen to familiar music.

Which leads me to another thought: paradoxically, technology may not be helping people expand their musical breadth. 

Despite providing greater than ever access to new and different music, today’s technology means pretty much never having to listen to a song you don’t know or like.  This was nearly impossible on traditional radio, wasn’t easy using vinyl or cassettes, and just so-so on CDs… but with most online radio apps or personal playlists, variety is increasingly sacrificed for the already-known or liked.

As in, we don’t have to sit through songs we don’t know or enjoy, giving these songs little chance to unexpectedly grow on us.

A bad example: for as many times as I had grumbled about my sister playing New Kids on the Block (and dissembled the cassette player with instructions on how to put it back together before she could listen to more of what I considered garbage), if I’m lucky enough to hear “The Right stuff” come on the radio these days, I never change the channel. 

Karen Cyphers, PhD, is a public policy consultant, researcher, and mother to three girls. She can be reached at karen@cyphersgroup.com.