Whether you like it or not, one thing that is inevitable about the holiday season is exposure to Christmas music. During December, shops pump out Mariah Carey to change people in the festive mood, but according to psychologist Linda Blair, listening to too much of it can distract us from doing our jobs.
Blair is a registered practitioner psychologist with the Health and Care Professions Council in the United Kingdom. She said listening to too much Christmas music, or any genre of music, can interfere with our concentration levels because of the stress hormones released in our bodies while listening.
When we hear particularly loud music or are exposed to the same song repeatedly, we’re more likely to get irritated and release cortisol and adrenaline in our bodies, Blair said.
“When we get irritated, we shoot out cortisol and if we’re startled as well in any way, like the music just starts blasting, we get an adrenaline shot, and those keep us from concentrating,” Blair said.
Chemical engineering freshman Cristina O’Hanlon worked at Justice, a clothing shop for teenage girls, during the summer. She said the clothing shop would often play the same songs over and over again in a 45-minute loop, which made her more irritated and distracted.
“The music was pretty terrible,” O’Hanlon said. “I think the fact that they repeated the same music so often also contributed to my frustrations.”
Blair said music appreciation has a bell-shaped curve, where in the beginning we enjoy listening to songs for a couple of times but if it’s overplayed, we may slowly grow our distaste for it and end up hating the song.
This kind of irritation can happen when shops play Christmas music way too early and too much instead of playing it just a few weeks before the holiday season, Blair added. Shops during the holiday season should be mindful of diversifying their music choices, because if it’s not well-considered, it can easily chase customers away, Blair said.
Music also plays a strong role in retrieving long-term memories and evoking strong emotions, said UT psychology graduate student Taylor Mezaraups.
For shops, this can be important because they generally want their customers to shop happy rather than grumpy or sad. However, Christmas is a time that can be either exciting or dreadful, and Christmas music can definitely trigger those emotions, Mezaraups said.
“It all depends on the person and their experiences, but due to music’s strong ability to serve as a retrieval cue for memories, it can evoke all sorts of different emotions in people, which can affect them in a multiplicity of ways,” Mezaraups said.