Music may affect the way you shop, especially during the holiday season

Stores set up to match the holiday scene. (Photo by Jamie Lindsay / Arizona Sonora News)

Frosty the snowman

Was a jolly happy soul…

It’s that time of the year again where people can order their favorite holiday drink from Starbucks or scratch off an item on the list for holiday shopping. But, it’s also that time of the year where the holiday jingles may not be too jolly after all.

After a recent study by a clinical psychologist, Linda Blair from the UK, exploded across the internet, the question is does holiday music really have the potential to harm a person’s mental health and increase stress during the holidays?

According to Blair, listening to holiday music on repeat while driving or in a store may induce stress by acting as a reminder of everything people have yet to finish before the holiday arrives.

With a corncob pipe and a button nose

And two eyes made out of coal…

However, it is ultimately the way people allow themselves to listen to the music or leave time for their holiday errands.

Kit Yarrow, a psychology and marketing professor at Golden Gate University, focuses her research on the psychology of why people buy and shop and the effect of consumer behavior during seasonal retail.

“If music is on a loop, and employees have to hear the same song over and over again, that’s just torture. But most retailers today are using music services so that the same song isn’t playing over and over again,” Yarrow said. “Not everybody, but I think that’s mitigated a little bit by how retailers get music, but that was the most accurate part of her findings that I found.”

Frosty the snowman is a fairy tale they say

He was made of snow but the children know

How he came to life one day…

Music is the main control to how businesses opt for strategies for their consumers’ purchases.

The way that music works in terms of generating impulses to purchase, holiday music can inspire spending but not like crazy mad-man spending, she said.

Holiday gift reminders at the entrance of Target. (Photo by Jamie Lindsay / Arizona Sonora News)

“If you’re looking at something for yourself and you hear a holiday jingle, it reminds you that you have shopping to do,” Yarrow continued. “Then when you see something that fits a person you could be shopping for, it reminds you to go ahead and buy it.”

According to the study, It’s Beginning to Smell (and Sound) a Lot Like Christmas: The Interactive Effects of Ambient Scent and Music in a Retail Setting, holiday music and scents created a positive shopping experience for consumers. People are more likely to buy holiday gifts when they are reminded of the time of the year through music and scent.

Songs that become easily rememberable and tend to replay in our heads are called earworms, according to the American Psychological Association. This is how radio stations choose what songs get more air time, and playlists businesses may choose to cater to consumers.

“Earworms for holiday music are an especially prevalent phenomenon, due to the many potential triggers in the external environment around this time of year,” Kelly Jakubowski, PhD, of Durham University, said.

Jakubowski conducted the study with music and earworms while at Goldsmiths, University of London.

“Hearing holiday songs on the radio or in shops can of course serve to trigger subsequent earworms, but earworms are also frequently triggered in other ways,” Jakubowski said. “For instance, seeing a snowman in your neighbor’s front yard can trigger an incessant loop of “Frosty the Snowman” or just thinking about your holiday shopping list could trigger a [holiday] song.”

And, in a study conducted by the Nielsen U.S. Music 360 Report, it’s millennials that seem to enjoy listening to holiday music the most.

“Apparently young people love the nostalgic holiday music and they look forward to hearing it and it’s not driving anyone crazy,” Yarrow said.

People have the choice to change the channel, or ask their boss to change the channel to listen to a new station of holiday music if that’s the only style permitted.

Unless your waiting until the weekend before the holiday and haven’t done just about anything, most people don’t panic. They don’t mind the reminder of holiday music, Yarrow said.

“That was another part of the article that people go crazy listening to holiday music in cars because it reminds them of how much work they have to do. But that’s not what I’ve found in my research.

“Most people aren’t in a state of panic over holiday preparations, and if they are, they probably need to cut back. The answer is to not listen to music. The answer is to get a more realistic holiday plan in shape for yourself,” Yarrow said.


Jamie Lindsay is a news reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at 

Click here for a Word version of this story and high-resolution photos. 


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