Musical Behavioural Science: How Christmas Music Makes Us Spend More

Christmas is around the corner, and merry tunes are due to start playing on the radio and in stores soon. Retailers all over the UK will be getting their festive playlists ready with many investing large budgets into Christmas-themed adverts, designed to pull on our heartstrings and entice us to spend more in good spirit.

Music has been integral to humankind and social bonding for at least the last 35,000 years. According to the Iso Principle, music has the power to modulate our emotions, helping us to transition from one emotion to another effortlessly, evoking moving emotional responses and influencing how we respond.

But how do these jingles provoke us to spend more?

Christmas jingles make us happy

According to research analysing 200 of the most streamed Spotify songs over the festive season, 78 of these revolved around Christmas and the holiday season. These songs have recurring core themes of being in love, returning to your childhood home, family, peace and festivity.

For many people, these themes are relevant to their daily lives and bring about feelings of nostalgia synonymous with the festive season, a noel nostalgia.

Along with the fuzzy feelings and memories of past Christmases, shoppers are likely to feel happier too because 95 percent of these songs were written in major key which invites feelings of happiness.

Additionally, 90 percent of the songs are in an upbeat rhythm and tempo most likely to cause listeners to want to tap along to the beat.

Based on this, Christmas songs are designed to make us feel nostalgic, happy and wanting to dance along with the beat.

Happy hormones increase generosity

We know Christmas music makes us happy and along with serotonin, when we feel happy, we release oxytocin which is known to increase our generosity.

Scientists suggest that empathy is one motivation behind why we feel generous, which will not only make shoppers spend more on themselves and others but also give money to charitable causes over the Christmas period.

On the flip side, Christmas music can be bitter-sweet. This nostalgia can impact us in a different way. For some, the festive season can be quite a sad time with constant reminders bringing about memories of loved ones who have passed on or of happier times.

However, the effect this has on our spending habits isn’t necessarily different. The saying “retail therapy” exists for a reason, suggesting that when we are stressed or sad, we feel better about going out and spending.

This kind of emotional spending is likely to peak during the festive season with Christmas songs setting off the spark in bringing about these emotions. The temporary high people experience from retail therapy makes spending money like a kind of drug to remedy the Christmas blues many people also experience, keeping sadness at bay.

So, yes, the power of music is evident. Christmas songs, whether they make shoppers feel happy or sad, can increase spending over the festive season.

How to make conscious shopping decisions

As Christmas songs abound during this festive season, all of us need to make conscious spending decisions no matter how jolly we feel. There are easy ways to do this which can be quite impactful.

Firstly, set aside a budget and stick to it or organise a Secret Santa scheme with your friends and family to limit the amount of presents you need to buy.

Secondly, take advantage of sales leading up to Christmas but have a specific shopping list and search for those items to stop you getting distracted by enticing price cuts for things you don’t need.

And lastly, if you’re feeling down this Christmas then reach out to friends, family or community groups where you can find community during what might be a sad or lonely time. Spend a little money going out for a coffee, drink or a meal rather than splashing out on gifts and spending unnecessarily. 

By James Picken, music and behavioural science expert at Startle