Rihanna is on to something. But she doesn’t realise it’s surveys. If only she knew.

I’m not too sure if there’s any organization out there which specializes in the psychology of music with research generally and/or in online surveys but if not, then I definitely will.

Music is synonymous with emotions and music has been used since the dawn of time to lift our spirits, help us grieve, build social bonds and even Barry White had his place in using his heavy base-line to get people together.

Games, (as I have mentioned in blogs and articles before) has also been used to build social bonds, and again, games have been played between human beings for centuries. Nothing new about music. Nothing new about games. So it makes sense that music and games are used together. Jane McGonigal writes a huge amount about the importance and the effects of music in games such as World of Warcraft and there is a plethora of research out there on ways music has even been used to help remove people from buildings such as the studies on classical music being played in the London Underground. (See my blog about this here: http://rwconnect.esomar.org/2011/07/20/nuances-nursery-rhymes-and-elephants-on-acid/)

“even Barry White had his place in using his heavy base-line to create a baby boom.”

So, as I had the idea over a year ago to ‘steal’ what is so engaging about games and imbue that into online surveys and focus groups, I’m now going to do the same with music. It makes complete sense to use music with Research Through Gaming’s ResearchGames™.

Anybody who follows me and @RTG_Ltd on Twitter too will know that we use a LOT of hidden timers (and sometimes visible timers) to capture respondents reaction times to questions in our ResearchGames™.


I have a prospective client who I hope will commission me to create these two really great games I’ve storyboarded for them very recently. There are 5 levels in each ResearchGame™ but the two games are pretty much exactly the same, bar the use of visible timers. One has invisible timers with visible timers (for System 1 thinking) and one has invisible timers but NO visible timers-plus the respondent is asked to “really think about their response” therefore encouraging them to deliberate for System 2 thinking. The data should be very different for those who have been asked to speed up their response, and for those who we have asked to slow right down.

The visible timers are used to prompt the respondents to answer a question quickly, thereby getting the response/opinion that is really top of mind. By telling a respondent ‘You have 3 seconds to answer!’ along with a visible timer gives us different data to when the timer and the prompt to be quick ISN’T there.

Anybody who follows me and @RTG_Ltd on Twitter (again) will know that for a short while now I’ve been looking for a piano so I can record some music and sound effects for our ResearchGames (I haven’t found one yet, so I will probably end up buying one) with the idea of writing and recording pieces of music of various tempo’s to see if this effects the behavior of respondents while they’re taking part in online surveys and even face-to-face research.

The System 1 game I’ve storyboarded for our prospective client (where we’re encouraging respondents to answer fast with visible timers) will use the fast-paced, uptempo music and the System 2 game (where we’re encouraging respondents to deliberate their answer) will use the slower rhythmed, calm music to help respondents take their time to answer.


I strongly believe that the data will be hugely different from one game to the other with the combination of using timers and music simply because there are huge amounts of studies that have taken place in other industries and this has built my confidence in this approach. For instance, the daughter of a good friend of mine fascinated me only yesterday evening speaking to me about what she is studying right now. Let’s call this girl Carrie. Carrie plays the piano and told me about her studies now on Music Thanatology (http://www.mtai.org) (another Greek word- woohoo! (Thanados = Death). Yes, this is the study of music and how it ‘helps’ people die. Morbid maybe, but fascinating nonetheless. Carrie tells me that music has genuinely helped people deal with their impending death better and help their families cope with knowing they’re about to lose someone they love. This method is particularly used with children and autistic people. The doctors who allow the practice of Music Thanatology literally LISTEN to the bodies of the patients, their heart-beat, their pulse, literally their body’s rhythms to find pieces of music to MATCH THAT RHYTHM and then change it to become calmer and more relaxed. Incredible stuff.

Similarly, and on a brighter note, a massive amount of research has gone into the types of music played in high street brand name clothes stores and supermarkets. The data shows that faster, up-tempo music equates to shorter bursts of visits but higher purchases per customer, which is why many stores use fast-paced music during sales. (http://www.prsformusic.com/SiteCollectionDocuments/PPS%20Studies/Benefits%20of%20using%20music%20in%20your%20business.pdf)

Therefore, it is a no-brainer to use music with research to either arouse emotion or calm people into a state of reflective thinking and deliberation. So now Research Through Gaming use gamfication, invisible and visible timers (or “Paradata Elements” as we call them) and now music. Just someone please tell me if they’ve got a piano that I can use for the day please!