Music as Part of Our Everyday Lives

Digitization has changed our relationship with music by giving us more control over the enjoyment, emotions, and cognitive effects of music listening.

Technological advancement is transforming our lives. The new digital tools we have created are changing how we work as well as how we spend our free time. In terms of music, digitization has diversified the ways individuals control and regulate their music listening. Streaming services, and the increased availability of several types of devices for listening, allow music to be personalized and incorporated into daily life to a larger degree than ever before. We can select exactly the music we want from streaming services offering a massive variety of choices, we can take music with us wherever we go, and listen to it as and when we wish.

But what is our current scientific understanding of this massive increase in the availability of music, and its effects on our listening habits? Surprisingly, little research has been conducted on the matter, and many questions are still unanswered. How do people perceive and experience the effects of increased availability of music? What devices do people use, how important is music to peoples’ lives, and how does it influence people’s emotional and cognitive states?

A recently published study sought to find answers to these questions. In the study, something called the experience sampling method was employed to determine how people experience, use and consume music in their everyday lives. Altogether 177 participants were sent two text messages every day for one week, with a link to a questionnaire inquiring about the music they had heard and its effects.

The comprehensive set of questions that the participants answered in the questionnaire asked about 1) the device on which the music was played, 2) whether the participant had been able to choose the music, 3) how much the participant attended to the music, 4) how much they liked the music, 5) how arousing the music was, 6) what emotions they experienced right after hearing the music, as well as 7) what the consequences of experiencing the music were (for example, whether the music had some effect on the task at hand, or whether or not the music raised memories).

Interestingly, the emotions that participants experienced as a result of music listening were not clear-cut but depended heavily on the device that was used.

With this method, a whopping 2375 answers were obtained from the participants during the one week of data collection. The answers drew a vivid picture about the different ways in which music is present in our lives today, and on the cognitive and emotional effects that increased music exposure can have.

1. How often?

Nearly half of the time (46.3%), the participants reported that they had been exposed to music during the last two hours, and 74% reported listening to music for over one hour each day, which shows how pervasive music has become in our lives.

2. What devices?

The most popular device for listening to music was, somewhat surprisingly, the radio: over 25% of the respondents reported to listening to music over the radio. The second most common device for listening was the mobile MP3 player, and third the respondent’s own music from a computer or via TV. 4.7% of respondents listened to music over their smartphones and 5.8% reported listening to music from streaming services. When comparing the responses of older and younger participants, the radio still remained at the top but the younger listeners seemed to prefer MP3s more than older participants, who listened to CDs more.

3. Cognitive effects?

The results showed two major goals of music listening that most of us will recognize, each related to different cognitive effects:

1. Purpose: using music to support concentration, motivation and attainment of current goals

2. Engagement: using music to bring back memories, focusing on enjoying and learning about the music

The time of day for listening to music (8:00–8:59, 9:00–16:59, 17:00–20:59, and 21:00–23:00) was associated with the choice of device through which the music was played: music was heard on TV more often later in the day, and on mobile devices earlier in the day. As the cognitive and emotional effects of music depend heavily on the context of listening and the device used, the cognitive effects also depended on time of day.

4. Emotional effects?

Interestingly, the emotions that participants experienced as a result of music listening were not clear-cut but depended heavily on the device that was used. Namely, listening to music in public, or on TV led participants to feel less content and more lethargic. In contrast, listening to music on smartphones, MP3 players and computers reduced the feeling of lethargy and increased the feeling of contentment. The researchers hypothesize that this pattern can be explained by amount of control the listener has over the device for music listening.

5. Control influences the cognitive effects of music listening

The results of the study showed that a sense of control also influenced the cognitive effects of exposure to music. Listening to music in public rather than on personal devices that one can control resulted in low ratings for engagement and purposefulness after listening, and was also considered the least arousing, and was given the least attention. Conversely, live music and listening to one’s own music collection ranked highest in engagement. Furthermore, music that came from individually controlled devices similarly produced most enjoyment to the listener.

All in all, the results show how digitization has transformed our relationship to music. Previously, it has been suggested that digitization and the resulting increase in the availability of music would lead to a passive attitude towards music in listeners. The results of the current study point towards exactly the opposite - digitization, and the vast opportunities we have for listening to exactly the type of music we want to listen to, when and wherever we want, has increased our sense of agency and helped us gain better control over listening. Most importantly, it has empowered people to use music listening in a way that results in the desired outcomes in terms of enjoyment, experienced emotions, and cognitive effects.

This digitally enabled empowerment of listeners and increased possibilities for deepened engagement with music in everyday life also opens up spectacular new opportunities for investigating and harnessing the effects of music listening on health and wellbeing. The transformation of our music consumption has come about quickly, and it seems that scientists are only now catching up with the investigation of its effects. In terms of the vast possibilities for supporting health, the Sync Project represents the first focused, large-scale initiative on the scientific investigation of the effects of everyday music listening on our wellbeing, and its informed utilization. We believe that this digital transformation is something that we could use to amplify the effects of music on health – making it one of the most easily approachable and enjoyable ways of supporting physical and mental wellbeing throughout life.




Krause, A. E., North, A. C., & Hewitt, L. Y. (2013). Music-listening in everyday life: Devices and choice. Psychology of Music, 43(2), 155–170. doi:10.1177/0305735613496860

North, A. C. (2004). Uses of Music in Everyday Life. Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 22(1), 41–77. doi:10.1525/mp.2004.22.1.41