Can classical music really stop late-night antisocial behaviour?

By James Picken, music and behavioural science expert at Startle

Antisocial behaviour is an issue across the country. But could music hold the key to curbing it?

A McDonald’s branch in Wrexham has experienced disruption, intimidation and assaults on staff and other customers. Its solution is to belt out classical music from 5pm.

Studies show that in more up-market venues, classical music primes product-relevant knowledge, which leads to more fluent cognitive processing of the experience. When elements of the environment are aligned, we’re more likely to have a liking for that venue. 

But McDonald’s doesn’t exactly fit the mould and that’s the point. By playing classical music in a fast-food chain, it may deter people due to the seemingly inappropriateness of what we’re hearing.

It’s also worked on the London Underground.

Set up in 2007, the initiative showed results within 18 months; robberies dropped by 33%, assaults on staff were down 25%, and vandalism was down by 37%. 

When surveyed, 700 commuters “overwhelmingly agreed that hearing classical music made them feel happy, less stressed and relaxed”, so the impact isn’t just on crime. 

We’re used to hearing classical music in relaxing situations, like being at the symphony, or in a meditative video. So, when we hear it, we’re taken to those spaces in our head, and it changes our behaviour.

Music can also have the opposite effect. As a form of ‘hostile architecture’, a luxury venue in Florida began playing a playlist of annoyingly catchy children’s songs – including “Baby Shark” on loop all night to deter homeless people.

It’s clear that music is being used to tackle unwanted behaviour. Its real-life application and results show that when used correctly it can encourage specific behaviours.

Rather than inherent qualities of a style of music, the differing perceptions – repellent or soothing – is based strongly on the individual. And the same is true for brands and their customers.

Startle works with hospitality brands that understand the importance of a great customer experience, using music, data and behavioural science to create atmospheres uniquely designed around their business and brand objectives. With our specialist expertise, technical know-how, and best-in-class support, our customers are able to scale their perfected atmospheres to achieve consistency across all of their locations. In doing so, they are optimising their customer experience for immediate commercial gain and valuable long-term impact.