Free music has changed the way we consume music, but does it also affect the way we experience it?

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From PS Magazine:

This hypothesis is based on a number of studies that show the more people pay for an entity, the more they value that entity.

The reasons for these phenomena are many, but they rely on at least two well-known psychological concepts. One is effort justification, whereby the more people put effort into an endeavor (e.g., through paying for it) the more satisfied they will become with the endeavor, as a means of rationalizing the effort they put into it. A second, related principle is the sunk cost fallacy, whereby people feel the need to make good on an investment, so as not to experience a sense of loss from the initial spending of money. In line with these principles, when people spend money on something, they engage in a process of inferring, “Well, if I paid for it, it must be good.” By the same token, when people attain free music, they may unconsciously infer it to be of lower value than things that cost money.

A second hypothesis suggests precisely the opposite effect, that free-ness will increase people’s enjoyment of music. This is because money can often have a corrosive effect on whatever it touches. The philosopher Michael J. Sandel makes a strong argument in his book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, that modern society has allowed markets (i.e., an environment for buying and selling) to emerge for things—a wedding toast, a human kidney, the right to shoot an endangered rhino, political influence—that were previously incapable of having a price attached to them. In doing so, many of these things—now goods—have become corrupted.

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