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Cueing Morality: The Effect of High-Pitched Music on Healthy Choice

Cueing Morality: The Effect of High-Pitched Music on Healthy Choice

Xun (Irene) Huang and Aparna Labroo

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Managers often use music as a marketing tool. In the current research, we found that music pitch can influence consumers’ healthy choices. Specifically, higher-pitched music can boost healthier choices

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Related Marketing Courses: ​
​​​​Consumer Behavior

Full Citation: ​
Dong, Ping,  Xun (Irene) Huang, and Aparna A Labroo (2020), “Cueing Morality: The Effect of High-Pitched Music on Healthy Choice,” Journal of Marketing.

Article Abstract
Managers often use music as a marketing tool. For example, in advertising, they use music to intensify emotions; in service settings, slow music to boost relaxation, and classical music for sophistication. Here, the authors posit a novel effect—higher-pitched music can boost healthier choices. Recognizing that many perceptual characteristics of higher pitch are conceptually associated with and therefore may also cue morality, they theorize that listening to higher- (vs. lower-) pitched music can cue morality. Furthermore, thoughts about morality can prompt moral self-perceptions and, in turn, “good” behaviors, and consumers consider healthy choices “good” behaviors. Thus, listening to higher-pitched music may increase healthier choices. Employing field, laboratory, and online studies, the authors find that listening to higher-pitched music increases consumers’ likelihood to choose healthy options (Studies 1, 3, and 5), order lower-calorie foods (Studies 2 and 6), and engage in health-boosting activities (Study 4). This effect arises because high pitch raises salience of morality thoughts (Studies 4 and 5) and attenuates when consumers do not perceive healthy choice as virtuous (Study 6). The article concludes with a discussion of theoretical and managerial implications.

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Special thanks to Kelley Gullo and Holly Howe, Ph.D. candidates at Duke University, for their support in working with authors on submissions to this program.

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