University News

New Study Co-Authored by William Paterson Professor Shows that Slow Classical Music Helps Shoppers Calculate the Best Deal

Shan Feng, assistant professor, Cotsakos College of Business

­--Study Co-Authored by William Paterson University Business Professor will be published in Psychology & Marketing Journal

Listen to Prof. Feng being interviewed by reporter Alice Stockton Rossini for a report that was distributed to 2000 radio stations that are part of the Clear Channel national network

Just as holiday shopping gets into full swing, consumers are often forced to calculate the best deal.

According to a new study co-authored by a William Paterson University business professor, people with math anxiety tend to avoid doing calculations that would result in cost savings -- but slow tempo classical music eases their anxiety and enables them to figure out the best price.

The study, which will be published in Psychology & Marketing Journal, is authored by Shan Feng, assistant professor in William Paterson’s Cotsakos College of Business; Rajneesh Suri at Drexel University; and Monique Bell at California State University, Fresno.

A typical consumer might have to decide, for example, is it cheaper to buy an item at its regular price, as part of a product-bundle, or as a single item from a product-bundle? A shopper with math anxiety usually picks the first option because it requires no computations, but it’s also the most expensive.

“When people with math anxiety shop, we found that slow classical music in the background helps to ease their anxiety,” explains Feng. “Some of them will then do the calculations and see which item is cheaper.” Conversely, the study showed that fast music or no music heightened anxiety.

In the study, two shopping lists were created and participants (William Paterson and Drexel undergraduate students) were instructed to “go shopping” and use $10 to buy items on each list. The objective was to achieve the most savings. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two music conditions and indicated their anxiety or emotional state as they shopped. Participants showed relief from anxiety when the tempo of background classical music was slow but not when it was fast.

Although prior research has been conducted on how background music influences consumer purchases, Feng says that this is the first research focused on customers’ math anxiety.

Feng’s areas of specialization are consumer behavior, behavior pricing and math anxiety.