Music Psychologist Daniel Müllensiefen talks Friendmas photo: @LukePDFreeman

Music Psychologist Daniel Müllensiefen talks Friendmas photo: @LukePDFreeman

It seems that these days we are preferring to spend our Christmas celebration surrounded by friends rather than our families. Research by Sonos and Spotify reveals that 57% of us prefer 'Friendmas' to Christmas day with our families, reasons being that it is less stressful and more fun as it echoes more a social gathering. It seems that music also has a lot to do with this, 85% say there has to be music playing; the same number believe that, after the presence of good friends and good conversation, music is the most essential ingredient, 61% even told us that music makes the food and drink taste better.

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I'm a music psychologist working at Goldsmiths, University of London and running a Masters course called Music, Mind and Brain which covers music psychology as well as the neurosciences of music.

why did you decide to be a music psychologist?

I first studied musicology at uni but soon questions on how we react to and how we can process music caught my interest and subsequently I tried to answer these questions from a psychological angle and with evidence from empirical studies and experimental data.

What influence has music on our lives?

It depends very much on the individual. For some people, and not even professional musicians, music is everything and they couldn't imagine a live without music, much like the team at Sonos! These people seek out different types of engagement with music all the time. On the other hand there is a very small minority who have a congenital musical processing deficit and these people are much less interested in music. The majority of the population would fall somewhere in between but to most people music is a very important part of their daily lives.

Do different genres of music have a distinct effect on our mood?

This depends very much on the individual's preferences and listening habits. If you are used to it, even hard rock and metal can make you feel relaxed while for many other people these kinds of music would be arousing and perhaps make them aggressive or angry.

The same with classical music: To people without much experience with classical music, most of it sounds fairly calm and inoffensive, but if you have a better understanding of classical music, it can trigger the full range of emotions.

What is the best genre of music to lift our mood?

The one that we like and that we associate with positive and upbeat feelings. So, again, that can be different things to different people. But everyone knows a song that would give them a positive push. Usually these songs would be slightly faster than average and use a major tonality.

In the research from Sonos it states that people believe that music makes our food and drink taste better, why does music effect this?

First of all our senses don't seem to be as separated as is commonly believed but on a neural level activation in one sensory domain can spread t a different sensory domain. Secondly, there are culturally transmitted codes that can suggest a certain interpretation of stimuli that are currently being perceived. A good example is film music where suggestive music can help to interpret ambiguous scenes. But of course music can also be misleading and provide a bias towards 'wrong' interpretations.

Can music help us build/strengthen friendships?

Yes, e.g. by singing or making music together or simply by knowing that you appreciate the same kind of music. Sonos encourages this as it is the experience of listening to music out loud and using it to connect with others over the solo experience one has with headphones. A primary function of music is to provide social identification and cohesion (as well as social delineation, e.g. 'I don't like the music my parents like').

Why do people prefer to share their different tastes in music rather than have one DJ?

That depends on the situation. In a club context people rather trust a DJ than collaborative playlists but for social gatherings like friendsmas, sharing your preferred songs on a collaborative playlist such as the playlist potluck on Sonos/Spotify is much more fun and is almost certain to stimulate conversations.

Why are Christmas songs still so popular?

Because Christmas is still a popular event and its musical tradition is very much at the core of it.

Finally, what is next for you?

A good night's sleep after all these friendsmas events!

Research provided by Sonos and Spotify


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