I’ve always dreaded the constant replay of Christmas music in shops. From Carols to popular music and the classic Christmas tunes that are trotted out every festive season. There are no doubt various reasons for feeling this way about them, and I know I’m not alone in it. Some people really don’t like carols, others aren’t fans of the classics and while some new ones become hits there are others that miss.
I think my dread of hearing songs in shops comes from the fact that I actually rather like carols, particularly the real old carols that are basically ancient folk music for Christmas. What the shops play are mainly Victorian Christmas hymns, which I and others like less.
You also tend to find that shops tend to play souped-up arrangements of carols. There may be something significant in what those arrangements do to the rhythm.
Old carols are basically dance tunes with a regular pulse. They were ideal for the regular synchronised movement that we now know would have produced collective endorphin release. That would have been very good for social bonding.
Which makes it interesting to me that shops play arrangements that destroy the regular rhythm, and so avoid the endorphin release that carols could (and no doubt used to) produce. The kind of carols you hear in shops seem designed to have different, more individual effects, rather than social bonding. Maybe that is better for shopping and spending.
There is actually an interesting body of research from the American Psychiatric Association relevant to the effects of carols. Which I heard about recently.
Humans have two modes of cognition, one verbal, the other more intuitive. Carols, and indeed all music, go into the latter system. Clearly some people don’t pay attention to the words of the carols, most likely those that don’t really believe in the Christmas story. If they were attending to the words they would think ‘but I don’t believe that’.
However, carols seem to get under the radar of rational intelligence. They go instead to a level of cognition that produces an irrational feel-good factor. It may even be part of the point of shopping carols that the only way you can cope with them is to switch off rational intelligence, and then just spend, spend, spend.
The amount of Christmas shopping music you hear seems to determine the impact it has. A small amount seems to be OK, but too much is really draining. One psychologist explained that ‘you are spending all your energy trying not to hear what you are hearing’. That seems to be a key reason why shopping carols are stressful, and bad for your mental health.