An Investigation of the Influence of Gender on the Hedonic Responses Created By Listening to Music

Kathleen T. Lacher, Auburn University
ABSTRACT - This exploratory investigation examines the influence of gender on the creation of hedonic responses to new (first time heard) music. Music evokes sensorial, emotional, imaginal and analytical responses in individuals upon its first hearing and these responses may differ in strength between males and females. Results show that gender does influence the strength of the different responses. Males tended to have a stronger analytical response and females a stronger sensorial response.
[ to cite ]:
Kathleen T. Lacher (1994) ,"An Investigation of the Influence of Gender on the Hedonic Responses Created By Listening to Music", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, eds. Chris T. Allen and Deborah Roedder John, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 354-358.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, 1994      Pages 354-358


Kathleen T. Lacher, Auburn University


This exploratory investigation examines the influence of gender on the creation of hedonic responses to new (first time heard) music. Music evokes sensorial, emotional, imaginal and analytical responses in individuals upon its first hearing and these responses may differ in strength between males and females. Results show that gender does influence the strength of the different responses. Males tended to have a stronger analytical response and females a stronger sensorial response.


Past empirical consumer research studies have examined music as a background feature in advertising (e.g., Alpert and Alpert 1989; MacInnis and Park 1991; Park and Young 1986), its use in classical conditioning (e.g., Bierley, McSweeney and Vannieuwkerk 1985; Gorn 1982; Kellaris and Cox 1989), and the effect of music as a background on purchase behavior (e.g., Milliman 1986, 1982). A group of studies addressing consumer aesthetics have explored the mapping of preference space for consumers who listen to jazz recordings, using multidimensional scaling techniques (Holbrook 1982; Holbrook and Holloway 1984; Holbrook and Huber 1979; Huber and Holbrook 1979).

As noted by Kellaris and Rice (1993), there has been a call for the research community to focus on music attributes (e.g., tempo, rhythm, dynamics, pitch) and how they affect the consumer. Several such studies have emerged. The effects of music tempo, modality and loudness on evaluative measures and behavioral intention have been explored (Kellaris and Kent 1991; Kellaris 1992; Kellaris and Rice 1993). The evaluative measures were intended to capture emotions and were different for each study. These studies found that faster tempos and major modes had a positive effect on behavioral intention. Loudness had a negative influence on women listeners. Kellaris and Altsech (1992) discovered that music loudness had a significant effect on the perception of time duration. The louder the music, the longer was the perceived duration of the music (how long it lasted). These findings are helpful to those who use music to influence consumers via retail atmospherics or marketing communications.

An alternative and complementary approach to understanding music and its influence lies in studying the hedonic responses that are generated in a consumer when listening to music (Lacher 1989). This approach centers on the hedonic consumption paradigm, which states that some products are consumed, not for their utiliarian value, but because they create experiences of feeling, fantasy and fun (Hirschman and Holbrook 1982; Holbrook and Hirschman 1982). It is important not only to identify a product's attributes, but also to identify the subjective responses created by the product, its experiential power, to better understand the entire phenomenon of music, not only as a product in its own right (Holbrook and Anand 1990; Kellaris 1992; Lacher 1989), but also the situational power it exerts in consumer experiences (e.g., shopping, waiting in a doctor's office, watching a television advertisement).

Using the hedonic consumption paradigm as guidance, Lacher and Mizerski (1994) explored the responses and relationships involved in the purchase of music. Their findings show that the four hedonic responses created by listening to music (Lacher 1989) significantly influenced both affect toward the music and the experiential involvement in the music. Those responses are

The Sensory Response

Described by Yingling (1962) as an awareness of the need to approach or withdraw from the source of the music or the source of tension associated with the music, the sensory response is typified by some physical movement, from swaying or the simple tapping of toes, to dancing to the music. Ortmann (1927) recognized the sensory response as the most primitive of the responses to music.

The Imaginal Response

The images, memories, or situations that music evokes are expressed in the imaginal response (Myers 1914). In an instrumental piece of music, an individual may hear passages that reminds one of the ocean or a storm (Gatewood 1927). The lyrics of a piece of music may also trigger images. These images may be specifically tied to the words or symbols, subjectively interpreted from the message (Holbrook and Grayson 1986). The imaginal response captures the fantasy aspect of hedonic consumption.

After a piece of music has been experienced, indexical associations may occur. Indexical associations are defined as the pairing of a musical event and an extramusical object, so that reexperiencing the music will trigger emotion-laden memories of the initial experience (Dowling and Harwood 1986). How many of us have songs that make us remember our first love or prom night? However, indexical associations are not created solely by the music, situational factors are also an issue. Therefore they are different from the imaginal response.

The Emotional Response

The emotional response represents the feelings one experiences when listening to music, such as joy, rage, sadness, or love (Gatewood 1927; Hargreaves 1982; Yingling 1962). The emotional component may be the most influential response since it is regarded as the primary ingredient in music appreciation (Havlena and Holbrook 1986; Holbrook and Anand 1990; Meyer 1956; Sloboda 1985; Yingling 1962).

The Analytical Response

Listening to music requires the discrimination and assimilation of the music elements and provides cognitive stimulation (Hantz 1984). Sloboda (1985) recognizes that people may analyze the music while listening to it. Most listeners have certain expectations about musicChow the melody should progress, how the harmonies should be constructedCwhich are learned through experiencing music.

Cognition seeking (Hirschman 1984) describes the hedonic consumer behavior where an individual seeks pleasure by discerning cause and effect relationships. In his study, Myers (1912) describes a subject who engaged in cognition seeking while listening to music. This subject wanted to analyze the music elements, to see how they progressed and if the progression made sense. The analytical response to music reflects the listener's engagement in the objective, logical examination of the music.

Gender Issues

As suggested by Konecni (1982), gender of the listener may moderate the responses that music creates. Meyers-Levy (1988) used gender to interpret other forms of judgments in the consumer research literature. Holbrook (1986) found gender differences in the aesthetic responses to clothing design features. Studies also show gender sensitivity to the loudness of music (Kellaris and Alstech 1992; Kellaris and Rice 1993) which can affect behavioral intention. Therefore, to better understand the subjective responses that music creates, gender differences should be explored.

The purpose of this study is to examine the effect of gender on all four hedonic responses to music, namely the sensorial, emotional, imaginal and analytical. To date, only the emotional has been addressed (e.g., Kellaris and Kent 1991; Kellaris and Rice 1993). Specifically, the research hypothesis is that gender of the listener will influence the music's ability to evoke the hedonic responses to music.



The sample came from both the Colleges of Business and Arts and Sciences of a southern state university. All of the subjects were given extra credit by their respective instructors for participation in the experiment. The sample consisted of 215 subjects, with 52% male and 48% female. The ages ranged from 19 to 36 years with 95.8% being 24 years of age or younger, placing the sample well within the range of the population of purchasers of rock music described by Miller (1992).

Selection of Music Stimuli

The stimuli used were rock-style songs. This genre of music was deemed most appropriate for the sample population. Original music was used to insure that the responses would be created purely by the music, not by any previous experiences with the music.

The first phase of the materials selection entailed acquiring a pool of songs from which a panel of judges would select two (Mizerski et al. 1988; Pucely et al. 1987). The university student radio station was used as a source of materials with the Assistant Program Director assisting in an advisory capacity. This student had access to all music currently being played on the station and knowledge of what other radio stations in the area were playing. The songs came from albums that had been recently released. The selected songs were not yet being played on the radio in this market during this experiment.

Previous studies (Holbrook 1981; Holbrook and Bertges 1981) have identified four musical features (product attributes) which affect aesthetic judgments. They are tempo, rhythm, dynamics, and phrasing. The pool of songs selected by the investigator was based on the variability of these features among the songs. Good overall production of the songs and the quality of the performance were also criteria for evaluation.

The tempo of a piece of music has been found to be the strongest influence in creating emotional responses to music (Hevner 1937; Holbrook and Anand 1990). Kellaris and Kent (1991) also found tempo to be influential in both the appealingness and arousingness of the music and behavorial intent, with faster tempos creating more positive responses. Since tempo is instrumental in evoking emotional responses and influencing music preferences, it was considered the most important factor for final song selection.

Five judges, each of whom had significant expertise in music, were used to select the final two songs. The judges were instructed to pick one with a fast tempo and one with a slow tempo, and decided on two songs by consensus. The song "Maniac" from the album Somethin' Bitchin This Way Comes by the group Lock Up was the fast tempo choice (henceforth, SONG A) and "Marlene Dietrich's Favorite Poem" from the album Deep by artist Peter Murphy the slow tempo choice (henceforth, SONG B). To determine the actual tempo of each song, the number of beats occurring within the duration of a minute was measured using a metronome (Garretson 1971). The tempo for SONG A fell between 108 and 112 beats per minute. The tempo category for this speed is Moderato, meaning moderate, but faster than a walking pace (Andante). SONG B fell between 72 and 74 beats per minute, placing it in the tempo category of Adagio, meaning slow and leisurely (Garretson 1971).

The two songs also vary with respect to rhythm and dynamics. For SONG A, the dynamics were a constant forte (loud); the rhythm was steady. Phrasing had a staccato quality, certain notes of the melody were detached. Instrumentation consisted of lead and bass guitars and drums. Voices were male and in the medium register. SONG B had dynamics that ranged from mezzopiano to piano (medium soft to soft). The rhythm was flowing, the phrasing legato (no perceptible interruption between the notes). Instrumentation included a synthesizer and what appeared to be a twelve-string guitar, creating a lush texture. The male solo voice was a low register and singing as one would sing a ballad. The contrast between the musical elements of the two songs would be expected to generate variations in the emotional responses created by the two songs (Sloboda 1985) and facilitate the differentiation of the sensorial, imaginal, and analytical responses.

Experimental Setting

A large conference room, which seats about 40 people, was used. Chairs were comfortable, padded and had arms. Two chairs were at each table. Tables were arranged so that four tables were in each row, two to the right of the aisle and two to the left. There were ten rows in all. Lighting was dimmed to half, making a more informal, comfortable atmosphere while still allowing enough light to answer the questionnaires.

The stereo system was set up in the front of the room. The system components included an amplifier/receiver, a cassette tape deck and two speakers. Settings volume and balance on the stereo playback system remained the same throughout the length of the data gathering.

Music was played as the subjects were arriving. The music picked was the album Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell. Its selection was totally arbitrary on the part of the investigator, using intuition to select music that would allow the introduction of test music stimuli to be less of a contrast in the data collection facility. Subjects were encouraged to relax and pretend that a friend had given them some new songs to listen to, in order to get their opinion of them.


Because subjects can influence each others opinions by both verbal and nonverbal actions (Kuhn 1980), care was taken to insure the independence of responses among subjects. As subjects arrived they were seated every other seat. Questionnaires were passed out face down.

When the experiment was scheduled to begin, subjects were given instructions on the operation of the experiment. The method used was one advocated by Wapnick (1976) and used by Pucely et al. (1987) and Mizerski et al. (1988). Two songs were played. Each song was played twice. During the first playing, subjects were instructed to listen to the music. When the song played for the second time, the subjects were to answer the questions on the questionnaire that pertained to that song. The questionnaire also included some demographic questions located at the beginning and end of the questionnaire. When the subject finished filling out the questionnaire, the subject was permitted to leave.

The order of the songs was rotated, so that half the sample heard SONG A/SONG B and half heard SONG B/SONG A. This was done so that song order effects on a subject's responses toward the songs played could be analyzed.

Measures Used

The dependent measures used for the experiment were those used by Lacher and Mizerski (1994). In that study, the sensorial and imaginal responses were created and validated using confirmatory factor analysis. The sensorial response was a two item scale comprised of "I was moving some part of my body (head, foot, hand) in rhythm with the music." and "I wanted to dance to the music." The imaginal response scale contained three items: "The song created a picture in my mind"; "The song made me remember something"; and "The song prompted images in my mind." Each item was measured using a six-point scale anchored by "strongly disagree/strongly agree."

The emotional response scales (Asmus 1985) and analytical response scale (Pucely et al. 1987) already existed in the music research literature. The emotional response, which originally contained nine different emotion dimensions, was tested by Lacher and Mizerski (1994) for its applicability to rock music. Results suggested that the six dimensions (and scale items), Exuberance (vigorous, vibrant, exuberant), Patriotic (heroic, victorious, patriotic), Amused (humorous, comical, amusing), Rage (hate, anger,rage), Sad (sad, blue, depressed), and Calm (calm, tranquil, relaxing) were enduring while the other three (Sedative, Longing, and Sensual) were song specific. The analytical response had two scales consisting of "I wanted to see how the song developed" and "I analyzed the way the song was put together and why it came out the way it did C whether it seemed right and made sense." Again, all items were measured using a six-point scale anchored by "strongly disagree/strongly agree."


The two songs were aggregated to produce more generalizable results (Lacher and Mizerski 1994). The constructs were represented by a single indicator created by summating the individual scale items (MacKenzie and Lutz 1989).


Check for Song-Order Influence

Multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was used to determine whether song order had an effect on the nine dependent responses. Results indicate that song order did influence the responses (Wilk's l=.8619, Exact F=2.13, hypothesis df=13, error df=173, p<.01, both Pillai's trace and Hotelling's trace confirm Wilk's l). Song order will be a covariate in the analysis of gender effects on the hedonic responses to music.

Gender Effects

MANOVA was again used to determine whether gender of the listener had any effect on the dependent variables, with song order used as a covariate. Gender did have a significant effect on the nine dependent variables (Wilk's l=.7942, Exact F=3.43, hypothesis df=13, error df=172, p<.01, with Pillai's trace and Hotelling's trace confirming Wilk's l).

While univariate F ratios ignore the intercorrelations among the dependent variables, it is sometimes advisable to perform the calculations to see which of the individual dependent variables may be affected by the independent variables, although it may be likely that no significant differences may be detected on the individual level (Pedhauser 1982). Upon examination, three dependent variables had significant results. Music seemed to evoke in males a stronger response in the emotional dimension Amused than in females (F=9.75, p<.01) and in the analytical response (F=7.10, p<.01). Females responded more strongly to the sensorial response (F=4.29, p<.05).


This exploratory study examined the influence of the gender of the listener on the creation of the four hedonic responses to music. Experimental findings supported the overall research hypothesis. Gender did have an overall effect on music's ability to evoke the responses. Specific individual responses affected were the Amused emotional dimension, the analytical response (more strongly felt in males) and the sensorial response (more strongly felt in females).

These findings suggest that males and females respond differently to music. Seeing "how the song developed" and "whether it made sense" may be evoked more readily in males than females. Responding to music through movement (e.g., dancing) is more strongly evoked in females. Why this is so opens avenues to future research. Variables that may influence these differences could be attributed to biological phenomena such as hormonal differences in brain development (Kimura 1992) or social-psychological processes such as sex roles (Meyers-Levy 1988) or a combination of both.

It should be recognized that the generalizability of these findings are constrained by two limitations, sample and stimuli. First, the sample should be expanded to include a larger scope of people, along demographic variables such as age, income, and occupation. Second, different music genres should be tested. It may be that classical music or jazz may evoke different response strengths.

However, knowing that gender affects music's ability to evoke hedonic responses is important for those who produce music as a product and for those who use music to influence consumer behavior. What may appeal to one gender may not appeal to another. As with loudness of music (Kellaris and Altsech 1992; Kellaris and Rice 1993), certain responses may either enhance or detract from a consumer's experience.

In conclusion, evidence from this study suggests that music's ability to create hedonic responses in individuals is influenced by the gender of the listener. These results are in line with other studies that tested gender differences (e.g., Holbrook 1986; Kellaris and Rice 1993). Given the present findings, future research should include different music genres, broader listener base and characteristics, the elements of music that produce the hedonic responses, and biological and social- psychological variables.


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