Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Influence of Music on Behavior: The Election Edition

We are rapidly approaching a hotly contested presidential election.  I wonder if you have noticed some of the very polished political ads that  have been coming out?  Most everything so far has been in the Republican field since it is their primary season, but I am sure Pres. Obama will have his own advertising out soon.

What I have found interesting is the use of strong, orchestral, programmatic music as the foundation for some of the ads.  Many of the ads now have a movie-like quality to them.  The music is often filled with warm string sections and broad brass harmonies that slowly grow into a triumphant theme.  They remind me of music from the movies like, Independence Day, or Dances With Wolves.

Here are two of the ads that are great examples.  (Now, stick with me on this!  I am not endorsing anyone, but only show these two examples because they will help us examine how music is being used to influence people.  Don't worry if you don't like these candidates, that is not the IT we are looking at today.)  Tim Pawlenty is no longer a candidate, but Rick Perry is still in the running and trying to overcome a rough start:

What is the purpose of the music in these videos?

1. To stir emotion: First and foremost, I think the intention here is to make some kind of an emotional appeal to the listener.  This is different than music as "message" that has been used in previous election cycles.  The best example I can think of is when the Clinton's used the song, "Don't Stop Thinkin' About Tomorrow."

2. To create a storyline: Programmatic music is just that - music that helps move along a plot.  These ads from Pawlenty and Perry are trying to establish the theme of leadership and authority as the candidates begin their appeal to the voters.  My question to you is, how much music like this is too much?  Can it be over the top and make the ad appear like a parody?  

3. To remind us of the past: So not only is the music designed to move us forward, but incredibly, to connect us with our past!  Music is very versatile and powerful in this way.  These ads are attempting to reconnect us with nostalgic ideas and feelings and make us comfortable with the candidates.  The music may remind us of our favorite movies or conjure images of people who overcame obstacles or conquered bad or evil. 

What do you think? 

Has there been a change in political ads?  Are these types of ads more effective than typical comparison or attack ads?

If there is a change happening, I wonder how effective it will be?  Obviously, it did not work for Pawlenty!  But, was it the advertisement's fault or did the content not match the reality of the real person?

I realize I have more questions than answers!  But these candidates are paying composers and producers big bucks to roll out these ads.  I think music therapists would be a good audience to evaluate the effectiveness of the music in these cases.  We are, after all, in the business of using music to influence behavior!

How long will the music affect a viewer after the ad is over?  These ads are typically only a minute or minute and a half.  During movies, the music can slowly help to lull you into the scene or reel you into the setting to make it more believable.  Who do you think has the best music in a political ad so far this election cycle?

And finally, if you are a music therapist, what does this discussion make you think about when you consider how you use orchestral and especially programmatic music in your therapy?  Or do you use it at all??  Most movie music would not be good for relaxation, for example.  Too much variation in volume, texture and mood.  It may also have too many connotations with parts of movies that could distract from the purpose of relaxation.  

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