Listening to motivational music has become a popular way of enhancing mood, motivation, and positive self-evaluation during sports and exercise. New research, however, finds that such music may help to encourage risk-taking and even boost self-esteem, but does not improve overall performance by itself.
The effect was more noticeable among men and participants who selected their own playlist. Additionally, researchers discovered that self-selected music had the power to enhance self-esteem among those who were already performing well, but not among participants who were performing poorly.
The study appears in Frontiers in Psychology.
Although there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence of music being used to help athletes get into the right mindset before games, the psychological processes and mechanisms that explain the motivational power of music are poorly understood.
“While the role of music in evoking emotional responses and its use for mood regulation have been a subject of considerable scientific interest, the question of how listening to music relates to changes in self-evaluative cognitions has rarely been discussed,” said Dr. Paul Elvers of the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt, one of the study’s authors.
“This is surprising, given that self-evaluative cognitions and attitudes such as self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-efficacy are considered to be sensitive to external stimuli such as music.”
The research team investigated whether listening to motivational music can boost performance in a ball game, enhance self-evaluative cognition, and/or lead to riskier behavior.
The study divided 150 participants into three groups that performed a ball-throwing task from fixed distances and filled in questionnaires while listening to either participant-selected music, experimenter-selected music, or no music at all.
To assess risk-taking behavior, the participants were also allowed to choose the distances to the basket themselves. The participants received monetarily incentivized points for each successful trial.
The results showed that listening to music did not have any positive or negative impact on overall performance or on self-evaluative cognitions, trait self-esteem, or sport-related anxiety. However, it did increase the sense of self-esteem in participants who were performing well and also increased risk-taking behavior — particularly in male participants and participants who could choose their own motivational music.
Moreover, the researchers also found that those who made riskier choices earned higher monetary rewards.
“The results suggest that psychological processes linked to motivation and emotion play an important role for understanding the functions and effects of music in sports and exercise,” said Elvers.
“The gender differences in risk-taking behavior that we found in our study align with what previous studies have documented.”
However, more research is required to fully understand the impact of motivational music on the intricate phenomena of self-enhancement, performance and risky behavior during sports and exercise.