Drunk people around the world understand that nothing pairs with late-night boozing quite like greasy fries and a burger. McDonald’s understands this and provides accordingly with its late-night menu, but what the global franchise doesn’t want is to deal with the after effects of drunk people in its restaurants. So, like a mother putting on “Baby Beethoven: Symphony of Fun” to ease a newborn, McDonald’s has begun swaddling its drunken hordes with classical music. According to music psychologists, it’s not a bad idea.
Australian news outlets report that some McDonald’s locations down under have started serving Big Macs with a side of extra Bach. These outposts join locations in Scotland and the United Kingdom that have already effectively used classical music to squash drunken brawls. At a McDonald’s in Glasgow that prompted 200 police calls in just 14 months, managers now play a mix of classical tunes, ranging from full orchestral works to solo piano pieces. While playing late-night classical music isn’t yet a global company policy, the existing research suggests that it very well should be.
Despite how hammered late-night revelers might feel about classical music, many studies have shown that music like Mozart’s actually soothes the brain. A 2015 study published in PeerJ found that people who listened to a 20-minute-long Mozart violin concert actually felt its effects in their genes. Brain scans revealed that listening to this music not only triggered the secretion of dopamine but also activated the genes connected to synaptic neurotransmission activity, which affects learning and memory. These feel-good results were particularly pronounced among study participants who had previous experience listening to classical music.
Meanwhile, a Human Brain Mapping study in 2007 found that classical pieces categorized as “happy songs” did, in fact, trigger emotional processes tied to happiness. When study volunteers listened to songs like Georges Bizet’s cheerful “Carmen: Chanson du Toréador” and Johann Strauss’ jaunty “Blue Danube Waltz,” their MRI scans revealed increased activity in the brain regions tied to rewarding experiences, emotional processing, and the ability to be attentive.
Other studies have suggested that classical music exerts its calming effects beyond the brain. For example, in 2004, University of San Diego scientists measured study participant’s blood pressure as they listened to classical, jazz, and pop music. Of these genres, classical was the only one that significantly lowered systolic blood pressure (the pressure in the arteries as the heart pumps). This suggested to the scientists that classical music could be helpful to patients needing cardiovascular recovery.
That music can influence a human’s psychological and physiological states shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Scientists have argued that music persisted through evolution as a tool for activating the body’s reward system, and in 2016 researchers discovered that music activates the same pleasure centers in the brain as sex and drugs.
Science confirms that music has a certain power over the brain. Now McDonald’s will see if it has the power to stop drunk people from acting McExtra at its stores.