New research suggests that certain types of music could help you feel more powerful.

By Brigitt Earley
Updated August 13, 2014
Retro Headphones
Credit: John Lawton

Whether it’s piped into the stadium to announce an entrance or through earbuds to power a marathon run, music has long been used by athletes to gear up for competition. But what about the suited woman on the subway? Should she be listening to Jock Jams in preparation for a crucial interview? Absolutely, suggests new research: It just might help her land the job.

It’s no secret music has an effect on our psyche, altering our shopping habits, increasing alcohol consumption, and even relieving pain. But, discovered researchers from Northwestern University School of Management, certain songs—especially those with high bass levels—make us feel more powerful.

“When watching major sports events, my coauthors and I frequently noticed athletes with their earphones on while entering the stadium and in the locker room,” researcher Dennis Hsu said in a release. “The ways these athletes immerse themselves in the music—some with their eyes steely shut and some gently nodded along the beats—seem as if the music is mentally preparing and toughening them up for the competition about to occur.”

In the first segment of the five-part study, 75 participants listened to 30-second clips of 31 songs to identify which made them feel the most “powerful, dominant, and determined” (Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and 2 Unlimited’s “Get Ready for This”) and the least empowered (the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa” and Baha Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out”).

A second group of 69 participants was divided into two, with one half listening to the least powerful songs and the other listening to the most powerful songs. All participants were asked to fill in the blanks to finish a word: “P_ _ E R.” In most instances, participants who listened to the high-power music suggested words like “power,” while the others used words like “paper.”

In another experiment, 148 undergraduates were asked whether they would prefer to speak first or second in a debate. Those who listened to the high-power playlist volunteered to go first almost twice as often as those who listened to the alternative playlist.

In their final experiment, researchers examined whether structural components of music, like bass level, impacted how music was perceived. Songs created for the experiment were recorded in two versions, one with low bass levels and one with high bass levels. The result: Participants reported feeling more stoked after listening to the bass-heavy scores.

The initial research suggests music’s ability to pump you up transcends the stadium, and certain songs may be helpful in any situation that requires a surge of confidence. So break out the Queen before your next job interview or important meeting: You may just rock it.

Listen to a playlist of ultimate pump-up songs suggested by Real Simple’s Facebook fans.