Simple connections can ignite big ideas
Collaborators. Inquiring Minds. Music buffs.
Who would have thought that a cup of coffee between a Hammond-B3-organ-loving business professor and a metal-fan psychology prof would be the beginning of a series of unique research collaborations?
As unlikely as it may sound, that’s exactly what happened when Rickard Enstroem and Rodney Schmaltz, two seemingly very different people, discovered a mutual appreciation of music.
“Music was the initial reason we started talking,” says Rod, who teaches psychology. “Social psychology—my research area—is basically the study of the way people’s behaviour is influenced by others. There is definitely overlap with consumer behaviour, which is one of Rickard’s areas of expertise.”
So an initial chat led to a brainstorming session of different music-related research topics.
“You never know where the next great idea is going to come from,” says Rickard, who teaches in the Bachelor of Commerce program and is fascinated by social phenomena. “Trying to scientifically study how music impacts people is an inherently creative process. Our goal is to create experiments in the lab that replicate the social or shared experience of listening to music in the real world. It’s a great opportunity to conduct research on something you’re passionate about and have some fun while you’re doing it.”
Rod is interested in how people use music in their everyday lives—how they frame themselves through music and why music matters so much to people. Rickard’s music-related research interests focus on consumer behaviour, such as the impact music can have on our purchasing decisions.
“ You never know where the next great idea is going to come from.”
“Music seems to reflect people’s values,” explains Rod. “When you compare music to other forms of popular culture, such as movies, books or TV, music always seems to have the greatest impact. Our goal is to better understand why, and we do this by bringing people to the lab and conducting experiments.”
In one of the pair’s research projects, that means looking at how music—whether it’s smooth jazz or a driving bass line—impacts the choices we make.
“There’s a commonly held idea that listening to “intense music”, such as heavy metal or hardcore rap, can negatively impact people. We wanted to know if listening to different types of music actually has an impact on the risks we take. Basically, does listening to heavy metal really change the way we perceive risks?” explains Rickard.
It turns out it does, but not exactly how you might think. It seems that “intense” music may have an undeserved bad reputation.
“We found that listening to intense music doesn’t seem to have the impact on the perception of risks that are generally associated with ‘problem music.’ While there is this idea that listening to rap or metal can be quite harmful, we found was that if people listen to music, regardless of what type, they are less likely to take health risks, such as engaging in unprotected sex, but more likely to take social risks, like starting a new career or speaking out on an unpopular issue.”
This is just the first in a series of studies the two researchers plan to conduct that build on the foundation of their mutual identity as music fans. Rickard says the possibilities for cross-disciplinary study are seemingly endless.
“It feels a bit like being a kid in a candy store,” says Rickard. “There is so much potential and so many different possibilities. Rod and I speak the same language when it comes to research, but we’re from separate disciplines so we also approach things from slightly different angles. That fresh perspective is one of the reasons why research collaborations like ours work so well.”
Rickard Enstroem is a faculty member in the Department of Decision Sciences and Supply Chain Management and Rodney Schmaltz is a Psychology faculty member. Learn more about the School of Business and the Faculty of Arts and Science at MacEwan University.