Holiday Jingles May Be Hurting Our Brains

Those who work in retail, like this barista in Dubai, feel the real weight of Christmas music. Sorbis/

There may be a special place in jingle hell for stores that break out the Christmas music too soon. You've probably already heard the seasonal strains wafting up from the local mall or big box store — telling us those halls need to be decked with boughs of holly.

(Aisle 12, next to the tinsel.)

And you probably took more than holly home with you, humming those songs all the way to bed.

But imagine the particular kind of madness visited upon people who work at stores this time of year. For retail staff, the music starts sometime around Thanksgiving. And it isn't over until the fat elf sings — nearly a month-and-a half later.

‘Tis the season to be locked into an endlessly repeating refrain.

And that may be a bad deal for the brain. Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist in the United Kingdom, suggests what may be comfort music to some can be a source of stress for people who hear it over and over again — a constant refrain forcing people to remember all the things that need to get done in time for the holidays.

Think about it. The idea that Santa Claus is coming to town may be a quaint and sweet notion to some. But when you hear it over and over again, it could have a vaguely menacing ring. Santa Claus is coming to town. So you'd better have everything done before he lands.

Because if you're not ready — we're talking dinner menus, presents for absolutely everybody and that tree (DON'T FORGET THE TREE) — there's going to be trouble.

"People working in the shops at Christmas have to learn to tune it out," Blair says in this Sky News video. "Because if they don't it really does make you unable to focus on anything else. You're simply spending all your energy trying not to hear what you're hearing."

Striking the right balance

People standing in line at a shopping mall
People who can't escape the mall — and that non-stop holiday music — may bear the full brunt of seasonal stress. Pavel L Photo and Video/Shutterstock

In a sense, a Christmas jingle isn't just a festive anthem — but a harried soundtrack that urges us to make a list, check it twice, and then check it some more.

Not surprisingly, the boss is usually OK with that. The longer store owners can stretch out the season, the more their registers jingle. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Business Research suggests when a store strikes just the right balance of music and ambiance, customers tend to stay longer and buy more.

What's more, even the tempo of the music can affect shopping habits. Plodding anthems, like "O Come, All Ye Faithful," may, for instance, cause shoppers to linger — while poppers like "Jingle Bell Rock" could send them scattering to other stores.

Faster, holiday shopper, faster! Buy! Buy! Buy!

It's no secret that retailers use all kinds of subtle techniques to coerce us into giving them our money. But Santa may be the real big daddy of mind control.

Or, as in the case of retail staff, mind damage.

Humbug, indeed.