Cueing Morality: The Effect of High-Pitched Music on Healthy Choice

Ping Dong*, Xun (Irene) Huang, Aparna A. Labroo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations


Managers often use music as a marketing tool. For example, in advertising, they use music to intensify emotions; in service settings, slow music to boost relaxation, and classical music for sophistication. Here, the authors posit a novel effect—higher-pitched music can boost healthier choices. Recognizing that many perceptual characteristics of higher pitch are conceptually associated with and therefore may also cue morality, they theorize that listening to higher- (vs. lower-) pitched music can cue morality. Furthermore, thoughts about morality can prompt moral self-perceptions and, in turn, “good” behaviors, and consumers consider healthy choices “good” behaviors. Thus, listening to higher-pitched music may increase healthier choices. Employing field, laboratory, and online studies, the authors find that listening to higher-pitched music increases consumers’ likelihood to choose healthy options (Studies 1, 3, and 5), order lower-calorie foods (Studies 2 and 6), and engage in health-boosting activities (Study 4). This effect arises because high pitch raises salience of morality thoughts (Studies 4 and 5) and attenuates when consumers do not perceive healthy choice as virtuous (Study 6). The article concludes with a discussion of theoretical and managerial implications. (183 words)

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of marketing
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2019


  • healthy choice
  • moral judgment
  • music
  • pitch
  • sensory marketing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Marketing

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