Science Reveals an Awesome Thing That Happens In Your Brain When You Turn Up the Volume

LeBron James with white Beats headphones in a black shirt walking on the basketball court

It changes how you think, feel and act. According to a recent study published in the Social Psychological and Personality Science Journal, songs with heavy bass make people feel more powerful. Researchers uncovered this trend by randomly assigning one group of people to listen to low-key music, and another to listen to pump-up songs. 

They found that those who listened to bass-heavy music were twice as likely to volunteer to speak first in a debate. When asked to roll a random number on a die, 86% wanted to roll the die themselves, as opposed to letting the researcher roll it for them, which suggests they felt they might be able to control the outcome of a random event.

Researchers even pinpointed exactly makes a song powerful: heavy bass. That means genres like hip-hop and hard rock actually do make you feel more powerful. The researchers classified Queen's "We Will Rock You," 2 Unlimited's "Get Ready for This" and 50 Cent's "In Da Club" as "high-power music," while Fatboy Slim's "Because We Can," Baha Men's "Who Let the Dogs Out" and Notorious B.I.G.'s "Big Poppa" were considered "low-power music."

Though "power" is a vague concept, listening to bass-heavy music directly affected how people behaved. It enhanced "abstract thinking, illusory control, and moving first" (i.e. 'power' listeners were more likely to volunteer to step to the podium first in a debate). People who listen to bass-heavy, forceful hip-hop are more likely to act with confidence and demonstrate complex conceptual thought.

This study is striking. It offers tangible evidence of what many listeners often feel. People attest to the power of music in accomplishing herculean tasks — so much so that pump-up mixes have a legendary status in our culture. During the 2012 NBA playoffs, when LeBron James wanted to pump up his team, he instructed them all to take off their headphones and listen to his pump-up mix, largely comprised of the Wu-Tang Clan, Jay-Z and DMX. That night the Heat scored 60 points in the first half.

This association between powerful music and force runs so deep that it might even have an evolutionary origin. Studies have deemed that deep-voiced men are perceived as more attractive, and that trait is typically associated with force. Of course, men with deeper voices actually have a lower sperm count, on average. But nobody told that to Barry White.

H/t to Pacific Standard.