Gambling: Music & Auditory Stimuli (Two ‘Big’ Questions)

How could we manipulate, and use sound as well as music selectively in a casino setting to increase/decrease gambling behaviour?

Prior to writing this blog post I had been researching the effects of environmental factors such as music on occasional, and problemed gamblers. I’ve learned that the implementation of music in casinos and any type of video game enhances the listener’s ability to perceive elapsed time. As a result, the implementation of music in casinos would influence customers to spend less time on games or in the building as a customer. In fact, random ambient casino sounds proved to be the most effective at impairing perception of elapsed time (Noseworthy, 2009). This subtle environmental manipulation makes it easier for the individual to forget about their outside responsibilities and be ‘in the present’, which results in the higher probability of increased gambling behaviour, thereby increasing revenue. This is also why many casinos typically don’t have windows, or easily detectable clocks. Casino owners have always relied heavily on psychology in order to increase profits.


What percentage of our reactions to auditory stimuli is due to social/environmental conditioning and what percentage is innate?


Before I continued with my music gambling related research I felt it was necessary that I look at how sound has impact us. Of our five senses, 11% of information sent back to our brain comes from our ability to perceive sound. Although it is not an overly significant number when compared to vision (83%), hearing inarguably is our next most important sense for survival situations and more. Whether we are conscious of it or not, characteristics of acoustic sound contribute significantly to behavioural and cognitive outcomes as well. Some components of sound are amplitude, frequency, speed, range, pitch, etc. Different sounds will contribute to various behavioral and cognitive outcomes as well. For instance, nonlinear sounds are used in animal distress calls and these sounds evoke feelings of fear and or unease in many who hear it. Conversely, the sound of happy laughter is identified as a positive sound in humans and it universally signifies being tickled (Sauter, 2010). Across the animal kingdom there are going to be universal reactions to certain monophonic and polyphonic sounds such as a loud bang or the sounds emitted by someone attempting to sneak up on another individual. Reactions to such sounds typically yield an evolutionary explanation. However, when looking behavioural and cognitive reactions to music specifically, the relative research seems to provide fewer concrete conclusions as to why they exist and there are often many issues with the methods of each experiment. For instance, a plethora of studies show adults, babies, rats, and other animals react positively to the sound of consonant music and negatively to dissonant music. However, the origin of the perception of consonance and dissonance in music are a matter of large debate (Zentner, 1998). His study looked at baby’s reactions to consonant versus dissonant music. The results suggested that infants are biologically prepared to treat consonance as perceptually more pleasing than dissonance (Zentner, 1998). It is not clear why we react certain ways to many different sounds and types of music. Musical research can be split into two different categories; experimentally rigorous and musically valid research. On one hand, much of the musical research is intensively experimental, controlled and scientifically sound which looks at outcomes of more controllable properties of music such as a specific pitch or frequency. The other side of musical research looks at music as something that is far too complex, and by having its individual components dissected, researchers lose what is referred to as ‘musical validity’. There are simply just too many independent variables to control when studying behavioural and cognitive outcomes of music and as a result the more ‘musically valid’ experiments end up being easily criticized as they avoid ‘dissection’ if you will. These are some of the reasons why many researchers often avoid musical research. I myself have consequently accumulated more unanswered questions than answers after delving into this kind of literature.

Mithen, S.J. 2005. The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 374 pp. ISBN 13-780297-643173, ISBN 10-0-297-64317 7

Nikolsky, A. (2015). Evolution of tonal organization in music mirrors symbolic representation of perceptual reality. Part-1: Prehistoric. Frontiers in psychology6, 1405.

Noseworthy, T. J., & Finlay, K. (2009). A comparison of ambient casino sound and music: Effects on dissociation and on perceptions of elapsed time while playing slot machines. Journal of Gambling Studies25(3), 331-342.

Sauter, D. A., Eisner, F., Ekman, P., & Scott, S. K. (2010). Cross-cultural recognition of basic emotions through nonverbal emotional vocalizations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences107(6), 2408-2412.

Zentner, M. R., & Kagan, J. (1998). Infants’ perception of consonance and dissonance in music. Infant Behavior and Development21(3), 483-492.


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