Ever wonder why restaurants play music in the background? It’s not just to fill in those quiet pauses when everyone is eating. Music adds to the ambiance and can help set the tone a restaurant is trying to create, whether that’s laid back and casual, or formal and proper. Interestingly, music can also influence your choice in food.
A new study published in the journal Appetite set out to determine which types of music might alter your food choices. Scientists recruited 215 participants from China and 114 from Denmark and had them take a simple listening quiz. During the quiz, the volunteers were asked to imagine themselves eating healthy versus unhealthy meals, and match each experience to a sound clip. Based on the responses, the researchers created two different soundtracks. The first, in reference to healthy meals, was a high-pitched, slow-tempo jazz melody on piano. The second, in reference to unhealthy meals, was a low-pitched, fast-tempo, dissonant guitar melody in a minor key.
Researchers then recruited a new group of about 100 participants. They had one half of volunteers listen to the jazz melody, and the other half listen to the guitar melody. While listening, each participant was asked to choose pictures of food on a computer screen. Scientists found that volunteers were more likely to choose fruits and vegetables if they had listened to the jazz soundtrack. In contrast, volunteers were more likely to choose doughnuts, pizza, and similar foods if they had listened to the dissonant guitar.
What does this tell us? First, music can have a lot of influence over your food and drink choices, because it can change your mood and perception. It’s possible that the volunteers in the study associated the dissonant guitar melody with a bad mood, and then made an association between a bad mood and “bad” food. In contrast, volunteers who listened to the slow, bright, jazz melody may have associated it with a good mood, and thus “good” food.
Other studies have already established the enormous pull that music can have on your grocery store choices and your wallet. A study back in 1999, for instance, found that playing French music in British supermarkets could cause French wines to outsell German ones. The opposite was true as well, with German music causing more consumers to purchase German wines. Another study from 1993 found that classical music tends to drive shoppers to spend more money. (Remember that the next time you enter your local grocery store!)
Music can also influence how much or how little you eat. According to research published in the journal Appetite from 2006, people who listen to music while they dine tend to eat more. The study also found that changes to music speed or volume don’t make much difference.
Some studies have found that genre can alter your food intake. The University of Arkansas compiled a research review in 2013 that showed how the presence of jazz music increased the appetite of diners. In contrast, several other bodies of research have suggested that slow, soothing music can make you eat less.
So, which tunes should you play as you’re sitting down to a meal with your loved ones? There may be too many variables to determine which type of music will be best for you. Ultimately, the music that makes you happy will make your meal more enjoyable.