The same old song: The power of familiarity in music choice


Does "familiarity breed contempt" or is "to know you is to love you"? In this research, we explore the role of familiarity in music choice. We show that although consumers say they would prefer to listen to unfamiliar music, in actuality familiarity with music positively predicts preference for songs, play lists, and radio stations. Familiarity with music is at least as good, if not a better, predictor of choice as are liking, satiation (which actually positively predicts choice), and regret. We suggest that the need for familiarity is driven by consumers' low need for stimulation in the music domain, and show that when the need for stimulation decreases, the power of familiarity significantly increases. In addition to their theoretical contribution, these results are informative for music managers determining playlists, for the promotion of music events and products, and for advertisers selecting the most potentially lucrative music venues.

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    In this research, we concentrate on familiarity, and do not address variety or variety-seeking. Variety refers to the number of different items in an assortment (Broniarczyk et al. 1998; McAlister and Pessemier 1982; Ratner et al. 1999), and variety-seeking refers to the desire to consume a diverse set of items. A very diverse assortment could include all familiar or all unfamiliar goods, and a very homogenous assortment could likewise vary a great deal in familiarity. In other words, high variety does not imply low familiarity and vice versa.


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Correspondence to Morgan K. Ward.

Additional information

Each author contributed equally to this work. The authors wish to thank Rebecca Naylor, Leonardo Nicolao, Roger Kerin, and the entire Irwin Lab for the help on this research.

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Ward, M.K., Goodman, J.K. & Irwin, J.R. The same old song: The power of familiarity in music choice. Mark Lett 25, 1–11 (2014).

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  • Familiarity
  • Mere exposure
  • Optimum stimulation level
  • Music
  • Song