Science Says We Love Christmas Music Until We Hate It [Study]

Do you like Christmas music? If so, don’t feel too guilty if you suddenly stop and find that holiday jingles start to wear on and annoy you after a little while. It’s perfectly normal, and there’s actually some psychology behind it.

With Thanksgiving now over, observing nations plunge headlong into the season of Christmas when thousands of mall PA systems pump out generic Christmas tunes for their bargain-hunting shoppers. But it’s not just people who don’t celebrate Christmas who find the ubiquitous seasonal music tiring, annoying or offensive. It’s completely normal for Christmas observers to feel some irritating grind from Christmas music.

According to Victoria Williamson, Ph.D, the phenomenon of growing annoyed by endless repeats of “Rockin Around the Christmas Tree” or “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is something called “mere exposure effect.” It’s the same general logic behind why a pop song is at first catchy, then familiar, then annoying. We like Christmas music until it hits its peak, and then we become overexposed.

“Anyone who has worked in a Christmas store over the holidays will know what I’m talking about,” Williamson says. Whether Christmas music drives you nuts from the get-go or you merely learn to tolerate it leans on your own unique psychological state.

If you’re the type who stresses about the holidays, whether over finances, family gatherings, or a hectic schedule, Christmas music will only serve as a peripheral reminder of that stress. Conversely, if the holidays spur fond family memories or religious meaning, Christmas music will boost your spirits.

According to ScienceDirect, shopping locations pumping out Christmas music throughout the holidays actually carries an added bonus for retailers: It gets you to spend more money.

“We’ve shown that ‘holiday appropriate’ music combined with congruent ‘holiday scents’ can influence shoppers by increasing the amount of time they spend in a store, their intention to revisit it, and intention to purchase,” says Eric Spangenberg, Ph.D, dean of the College of Business at Washington State University in Pullman.

The type of music is important too. “Slower tempo music slows down shoppers, and they spend more time and money in a store,” Spangenberg explains. Quicker-paced Christmas music does the opposite, rushing you out of a store too quickly.

The case for individual effect, via NBC News:

“I find the traditional songs sung by the great artists of the 50s and 60s or the funny songs about ‘Grandma Getting Run Over by a Reindeer’ put a smile on my face,” says professional polo player Charlie Muldoon.

“But those remakes by commercial singers and rappers make me want to go postal,” he says. “Those ‘elevator’ versions of holiday music make me want to take a bat to the machine that plays them.”

“I think at first Christmas music is nice, it’s nostalgic, and it gets me into the holiday spirit,” says writer Shana McGough. Then, “it gets old, and it can start to feel like a part of a giant sales machine trying to bleed me dry.”

Public relations professional Mary Leach thinks Christmas music is just fine, so long as it stays in its place. “Christmas [music and decorations] much prior to Turkey Day is just plain wrong.”

What do you think of Christmas music?