In a world of coders and cubicles, some employees prefer to work with headphones on. Others don't, hewing to traditional notions of office etiquette. But is it possible that this latter group, well-behaved though it is, could be missing out on the workplace benefits of music?

Yes, indeed, according to recent research by a team of academics from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management. One key finding was that the right music can put you in a better frame of mind to perform tasks. 

The researchers invited participants into a lab and played songs for them. Then they asked participants to rate, on a seven-point scale, "how powerful, dominant, and determined certain songs made them feel," according to a research summary by Jessica Love in Kellogg Insight

The three songs that rated highest were:

These three songs became what the researchers called a "high-power" playlist. They also compiled a "low-power" playlist of three other songs that were also considered to be similar in style (stadium music or hip hop) but that were rated by participants as "less empowering." Those three songs were:

A different batch of participants then listened to the high- or low-power songs while working on various tasks. In one experiment, the researchers asked these new participants to complete word fragments such as P _ _ E R with the first word that came to mind.

You could, of course, complete that fragment as power. You could also complete it as paper, piper, poser, or something else. "Sure enough," writes Love, "those listening to the high-power playlist were more likely to complete the fragment using power words than those listening to the low-power playlist. Because participants were instructed to complete fragments with the first word that came to mind, the study suggests that the empowering effects of music may be somewhat unconscious and automatic."

What traits do the high-power songs all share? They are bass-heavy. The researchers tested this by creating heavier- and lighter-bass versions of the same songs. Indeed, participants rated the bass-heavy versions to be more high-power than the low-bass ones.

So when might it be wisest to apply these findings in the workplace? In Love's summary, one of the researchers, Derek Rucker, a professor of marketing at Kellogg, suggested listening to the bass-heavy, high-powered music prior to important meetings, negotiations, or other scenarios where you want to feel confident and self-assured. "Just as professional athletes might put on empowering music before they take the field to get them in a powerful state of mind," he told her, "you might try [this] in certain situations where you want to be empowered." 

Overall, the Kellogg researchers hope their findings become a first step--a prelude to further research that might, potentially, turn office etiquette on its ear. "What we want to know is, when does music have an effect on employees, and when should I care about it as a manager?" Rucker continues. "Equally important, when should I not care about it?"

In other words, the day might be coming when keeping your headphones on is no longer frowned on in office settings. Score another win for the introverts.