Increasing Trust and Reducing Perception of Waiting Time Through Music

Case Study

Introduction

Americans spend 37 billion hours a year waiting. Man Made Music (MMM) designs the sounds that many of them are exposed to while they wait – sounds that not only make time pass faster/slower but can also change their predisposition as they enter a room to see their doctor or call in to speak with a financial advisor. The total impact of soundscapes is enormous and yet the effect that sounds have on things like trust, likability, and openness are still poorly understood.

About Man Made Music

Fast Company named Joel Beckerman, the founder of NYC-based Man Made Music, one of the “Most Creative People in Business” and called Man Made Music one of the “Most Innovative Companies” in the world. MMM uses the power of soundscapes to develop signature sonic branding programs for global giants such as HBO (e.g. their iconic static intro sound), Disney, AT&T, and Southwest Airlines. Recently, MMM took a scientific direction in order to explore the psychological and physical benefits of different soundscapes – especially in the context of waiting.

The Ask

MMM approached The Decision Lab to conduct rigorous research on the types of sounds that make waiting times better. Since their clients include some of the largest consumer-facing companies in the world (including several big banks), the total impact of their sound design is enormous. The final goal was to create insights that serve a threefold purpose: to be mediable, actionable and scientifically rigorous.

Approach

Given these goals, we went through a similar alignment process that we have described in this proposal and came up with concrete research questions that fit gaps in existing research, was likely to produce interesting output for consumers and could produce actionable recommendations for MMM. Based on these research questions, we designed a study investigating the effect of a wide range of sounds on people’s perception of their environment. In particular, we were interested to compare how different sounds scapes (happy music, sad music, white noise, coffee shop sounds, a story, and a repeated message) would affect people’s ratings of:

  1. How much time has elapsed as well as their confidence level
  2. Feelings of happiness, sadness, annoyance, relaxation
  3. Propensity to trust the organization they are dealing with

Using the MTurk platform and PsyTurk, we randomly assigned a representative sample of 184 participants (87 females, 97 males, all American, ages 18-65) to various conditions. Participants were asked to listen to a 120 second sound and were then asked a series of questions. Results were analyzed using Matlab and Python statistical libraries and were then socialized with leading researchers in this space. Interestingly, we found that the best performing sound can ‘speed up’ time perception by 19% and increase trust by 40%. Furthermore, people had no idea this was happening and actually rated the sound relatively low on scales typically used to assess success. The final output of the study was turned into a whitepaper by our team and is currently being handled by MMM’s PR partners in preparation for publication on venues such as FastCo, HBR and TED.

Impact

  • We can take the simple case of financial advisors operating in a bank 
  • 45% of Americans do not think they have enough money to warrant making a plan, 20% do not know how to make a plan and 16% do not think they can stick with a plan
  • Level of trust towards an advisor is the biggest predictor of the likelihood of following their plan

Our experiment has shown that music can increase trust by 39%, impacting the 16 to 20 percent of Americans who encounter behavioral barriers toward long-term goals