Skip to main content

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. 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.


  • Arbitron (2007). Radio today: how America listens to radio. Accessed 27 Jul 2010.

  • Arbitron (2008). The Arbitron diary service. Accessed 27 Jul 2010.

  • Berlyne, D. E. (1960). Conflict, arousal, and curiosity. New York: McGraw Hill.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Berlyne, D. E. (1971). Aesthetics and psychobiology. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

    Google Scholar 

  • Broniarczyk, S. M., Hoyer, W. D., & McAlister, L. (1998). Consumers' perceptions of the assortment offered in a grocery category: the impact of item reduction. Journal Marketing Research, 35, 166–176.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Berryman, J. C. (1984). Interest and liking: further sequential effects. Current Psychological Research and Reviews, 3, 39–42.

    Google Scholar 

  • Campbell, C. (1992). The desire for the new: its nature and social location as presented in theories of fashion and modern consumerism. In R. Silverstone & E. Hirsch (Eds.), Consuming technologies: media and information in domestic spaces. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dotinga, R. (2005). Radio industry hits shuffle. Wired Magazine. Accessed 27 Jul 27 2010.

  • eMarketer (2010). Accessed 19 Oct 2010.

  • Edison Research (2006). Follow-up Edison media research study on 12–24 radio listening shows sharp decreases in TSL and usage. Accessed 27 Jul 2010.

  • Ferraro, R., Bettman, J. R., & Chartrand, T. L. (2009), The power of strangers: the effect of incidental consumer brand encounters on brand choice. Journal of Consumer Research, 35(5), 729–741.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fiske, D. W., & Maddi, S. R. (1961). Functions of varied experience. Homewood: Dorsey.

    Google Scholar 

  • Furnham, A., & Bradley, A. (1997). Music while you work: the differential distraction of background music on the cognitive test performance of introverts and extraverts. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 11, 445–455.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gillebaart, M., Förster, J., & Rotteveel, M. (2012). Mere exposure revisited: the influence of growth versus security cues on evaluations of novel and familiar stimuli. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 141, 699–714.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Goodman, J. K., Cryder, C. E., & Cheema, A. (forthcoming). Data collection in a flat world: the strengths and weaknesses of Mechanical Turk samples. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making.

  • Jacoby, L. L., & Dallas, M. (1981). On the relationship between autobiographical memory and perceptual learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 110, 306–340.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Little, J. (2010, February 5). Senior Consultant, Troy Research, Interview

  • Maddi, S. R. (1968). The pursuit of consistency and variety. In R. P. Abelson et al. (Eds.), Theories of cognitive consistency. Chicago: Rand McNally.

    Google Scholar 

  • McAlister, L., & Pessemier, E. (1982). Variety seeking behavior: an interdisciplinary review. Journal of Consumer Research, 9, 311–322.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mowen, J. C. (1988). Beyond consumer decision making. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 5, 15–25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • North, A. C., Hargreaves, D. J., & Hargreaves, J. J. (2004). Uses of music in everyday life. Music Percept, 22, 41–77.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Radio Advertising Bureau (2009). Accessed 27 Jul 2 2010.

  • Raju, P. S. (1980). Optimum stimulation level: its relationship to personality, demographics, and exploratory behavior. Journal of Consumer Research, 7, 272–282.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ratner, R. K., Kahn, B. E., & Kahneman, D. (1999). Choosing less-preferred experiences for the sake of variety. Journal of Consumer Research, 26, 1–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Read, D., & Loewenstein, G. (1995). The diversification bias: explaining the difference between prospective and real-time taste for variety. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 1, 34–49.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilson, T. D. (2009). Know thyself. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4, 384–389.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zajonc, R. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9, 1–27.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

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.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

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).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: