What is it about?

The world of music has transformed dramatically with the advent of audio streaming services, providing music lovers with instant access to a vast array of songs. But amidst this abundance of choices, how do people efficiently search for and choose their favourite music? A new study delved into this question and found some fascinating insights. Their findings suggest that people tend to rely on the recognition of song titles when making their choices. This was even true when participants were allowed to listen to the music, although the effect was less pronounced. Interestingly, the study also found that social information, such as fictitious popularity ratings presented with the music, played a significant role in influencing listener choice. Together, these results show that when searching for and choosing music in playlists, listeners evaluate the usefulness of all available cues to ultimately arrive at a satisfactory choice given their limited resources, such as time and mental capacity. We find that choosing based on the recognition of song titles is particularly effective when time is limited, and listeners choose songs based on visual information only. In these situations, the recognition of song titles may function as a shortcut to quickly infer the quality of the music without any additional information. For example, songs are recognized when they are popular or recommended by someone else. However, this human bias favouring recognized music may likely have a negative impact for unknown artists, contributing further to the inequality in the music market.

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Why is it important?

With so many options available, how do listeners search for and choose music effectively? This question has implications for music artists and audio streaming platforms, such as Spotify and Apple Music, a multibillion-dollar industry. We find that when searching for and choosing music in playlists, listeners rely on mental shortcuts that help them make efficient decisions, both in terms of time and mental resources. The most influential mental shortcut found in our research is social information, where listeners choose based on the most popular songs. A second important mental shortcut is visual recognition, where listeners choose based on the familiarity of the song titles. While using such shortcuts is undoubtedly an efficient way to navigate the vast world of music, it is important to recognize the potential downsides of relying solely on popular or familiar choices. This can result in a reluctance to explore new and potentially exciting artists, reinforcing the winner-takes-it-all principle that dominates the music industry, where a few popular artists and songs gain significant traction while most of the music remains undiscovered. This trend can limit the exposure of lesser-known artists and can ultimately lead to a homogenization of musical tastes. To combat these potential issues, music streaming services can incorporate features that encourage exploration and suggestions for emerging or lesser-known artists. Such features can help promote a more diverse listening experience and may ultimately lead to the discovery of new and exciting music.

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This page is a summary of: The effect of visual recognition on listener choices when searching for music in playlists., Psychology of Aesthetics Creativity and the Arts, April 2023, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/aca0000562.
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