Music and gambling

Hello Dear Reader !!

No, I have not fallen off the edge of the Earth. I was busy moving back to the UK, starting my new job at Sheffield, meeting many lovely new people and finding my feet back ‘up north’ in York again.

I feel settled now and, like all in academia, am getting on with the new year.

2253052296_efc80ddf43_zI hope you are well, Dear Reader. I promise I thought of you often since last we spoke. To make up for my absence in the last few weeks the blog has had a thorough clean. The job/scholarship and conference pages are now up to date (lots of exciting meetings in 2015 so far) and all your kind comments have been answered. I hope you find these changes useful.

Now, back to our usual fun of new findings in music psychology!

This week I spied a paper on the role of music in gambling behaviour. This peaked my interest as it is a subject that some of our students at Sheffield study, so I thought I would give it a read, to better relate to their work.

The paper is by a Norwegian group headed by Rune Mentzoni and can be downloaded for free by clicking on this link. 

2p_coins_on_pusher_at_Butlins,_Minehead_2009Now – I am not a gambler by nature, Dear Reader. To my knowledge, other than the 2p machines on Scarborough sea front (see image if you are not familiar) or the occasional National Lottery flutter I have only gambled once in my life. I joined a work team bet on the Grand National horse race. To my shock I won. I decided to buy my colleagues a drink and retire while ahead.

For those who do encounter gambling situations on a more regular basis, what is the impact of the music on them? And, interestingly, how might an understanding of the effects of music on gambling help clinical approaches to problem behaviours such as addiction?

There has been interest in the role of music on gambling behaviour for at least the last century. Previous studies have produced mixed results. In one case the presence of music helped  gamblers better monitor their behaviour and passage of time (poorer memory for actions was observed in the absence of music). In another couple of studies faster tempo music was associated with faster betting behaviours, but not higher risk taking.

2261538585_2356761c29_bIn the new paper ‘a nonclinical sample of 101 students (72 females) played a computerized gambling task in which either a high-tempo or a low-tempo musical soundtrack was present’.  The idea was to include music as part of the game, rather than using background music. This is a more realistic experience of many gambling situations such as slot machines (“one-armed bandits” my Grandmother used to call them).

Faster reaction times and bet making were expected. The authors also asked people about their enjoyment of the game. Participants completed a standardised gambling scale before the task to assess any pre-existing problem behaviours.

Method: The game, called “Superjack” , was realised in Eprime 2. To paraphrase the paper, the task was to select one of four cards by pressing one of four keys on a standard keyboard. Each trial (bet) cost NOK 3 ($0.50), and a start-up credit of NOK 50 ($9) was provided.

Whist-type_trickParticipants were told the following: If the selected card turned out to be a Queen, King or Ace a small win of NOK 3 ($0.50) would be obtained. A Jack of any suit would yield a win of NOK 20 ($3.50). A Joker would win NOK 100 ($18). A SuperJack (special card) would win NOK 250 ($44.50), and two consecutive SuperJacks would win NOK 850 ($151). Any other card resulted in no win on that trial.

Reaction times were measured as were the number and amount of bets placed. Game evaluation was rated by participants at the end.

Results: Participants in the slow music tempo group placed more bets compared to participants in the fast tempo group. This finding is in line with research in other public arenas, such as restaurants, where people tend to spend more time and money in establishments with slower tempo music.

Participants who heard the fast soundtrack had faster reaction times compared to participants in the slow game music condition.

In terms of overall enjoyment there was no effect of musical condition.

Conclusions: Overall it appears that slow music prolongs gambling behaviour compared to fast music – in the latter condition people are much quicker to bet (and in most cases run out of money). Neither of these responses seem linked to a person’s liking of the task or the music.

The_CardsharpsThe authors argue that the paper underlies the importance of learning and employing self-awareness and self-monitoring strategies when gambling, as these can potentially be modified by music: And the importance of knowing environmental impacts. It remains an open question whether the music still effects people once they are made aware of its presence and possible impact (that would be an interesting follow-up).

So there you go, a simple little paper for my return to the blog, but one that I hope opens questions and thoughts about useful clinical applications.

Dear Reader, I wish you a pleasant weekend and week ahead.

Music and sleep

Hello Dear Reader

This week’s blog is dedicated to the launch of my new music and sleep project, which I mentioned at the end of last week’s blog. Here is all the promised detail.

This project marks a new collaboration between myself and the lovely Dr. Simon Durrant, who heads the Lincoln Sleep and Cognition Laboratory. Simon did his masters, PhD and postdoc in music psychology (one of us!) though he has since specialized in sleep research. We were happy to discover we had interests in common and to find an opportunity to work together!

We have launched a brand new survey, about sleep and music. It takes 15 minutes and we would be so grateful if you could spare the time to take part and then pass it on.

By way of a thank you, you will be entered into a draw to win £100 vouchers from a national retailer of your choice (or your international equivalent in online vouchers). You will alsoget instant feedback about your levels of musical sophistication and sleep quality.

If you are happy to take part in our survey then please click on the link below. If you would like more information on the project first then just keep reading…

Why are we interested in sleep?


According to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation (2011) two thirds of UK adults experience regular sleep disruption and 1 in 10 have a recognized sleeping disorder, of which there are over 100 varieties.

Sleep disorders cost the NHS over £50 million a year, whilst each poor-sleeping employee costs their employer £1,900 in lost productivity (figures obtained by the Co-operative Pharmacy). Referrals to sleep clinics are on the increase.

Taking all these facts into consideration, there is an urgent need to investigate non-pharmaceutical, low cost and flexible sleep aids.

Music has highly significant potential as a sleep aid: it is low cost, portable, adaptable for individual tastes, and side effect free (at appropriate loudness).

Don’t we know that music helps already?

The power of music to aid sleep is seen in the existence of ‘music for sleep’ CDs, playlists and radio stations. Despite their popularity however, there is little evidence-based research on how sleep quantity or quality is impacted by music.

Some studies claim that listening to music before bed improves sleep by up to 35% in the elderly and student populations (Harmat, Takács, & Bódizs, 2008; Lai & Good, 2005). Some report success in self-sleep ratings but not clinical measures of sleep quality (Chang, Lai, Chen, Hsieh, & Lee, 2012). Others find little beneficial effects (Lazic & Ogilvie, 2007).

The different results from music sleep research arise from three limitations: (1) no study to date has combined music with objective sleep measures for long enough to be really effective, (2) no study to date has investigated what music qualities are important for treatment to be effective and (3) most studies took place in hospitals not in people’s own beds.

The present study will redress this situation by first carrying out a large Internet survey on music and sleep. The aim is to determine how people are currently using music when they encounter sleep difficulties in their day-to-day lives.

Our internet survey will allow targeting and testing of effective music for sleep. It will inform a planned intervention study detailed below.

What will happen after the survey?

Using the results of our survey, Simon and I will carry out an informed ‘music for sleep’ intervention study using new sleep technology in people’s own beds.

How will this research make a difference?

This research will improve understanding of the true effects of music on sleep.


Since poor sleep is on the increase in the UK there is an urgent need to investigate promising low cost and drug free aids, such as music. The present study builds on the existing small research base and provides much needed evidence into how music is used to aid sleep across the largest number of people sampled to date.

The present work will feed into the first rigorous, long term scientific investigations of music on sleep that use objective physiological methods as well as self-report measures.

What will happen once the research is over?

The research results (never private individual data) will be disseminated to the health community for clinicians to advise their patients on the use of music for sleep disturbance.

The results will also be available for the industries that develop sleep aids, thereby promoting evidenced-based development of these tools.

insomniaThe ultimate aim of our research is to help improve wellbeing, for which good sleep is critical. Poor sleep is associated with serious health problems such as heart disease, stroke, depression and other mental health disorders (Cappuccio et al. 2011; Mental Health Survey, 2011[1]). Poor sleep also impacts negatively on work productivity and concentration (Leger, 2000; Daley et al., 2009).

The present research will contribute to quality of life in sleep sufferers by providing the first set of objective results on the impact of music on sleep.

And this is where you come in!!

Please find 15 minutes to tell us all about your life with sleep and music.

What do I get?

You will take three questionnaires that will provide instant scores for you on your levels of musical sophistication and recent sleep quality.

If you provide an email address then you will be entered into a prize draw to win £100 worth of vouchers from a national retailer of your choice (or your international equivalent in online vouchers).

Is it safe?

This survey has been ethically approved by The University of Sheffield Music Department’s research ethics review procedure.

Furthermore, we are using the most secure survey tool, Qualtrics. This tool guarantees anonymity and safe storage of data. It is used by 97 of the top 100 business schools and 1300 universities worldwide, as well as top companies such as Mastercard, Fedex, Nestle, Toyota, and ABC broadcasting.

How do I take part?!

Just click when you have 15 spare minutes and answer a few questions.

Remember to leave your email so you can be entered into the prize draw to win £100 of vouchers from a national retailer of your choice (or your international equivalent in online vouchers)!