The Ultimate Behavioral Science Playlist: Bias

By Aline Holzwarth

Illustrations by Matt Trower

We have joined together with other behavioral scientists to compile a playlist of over 5 hours of songs from a diverse range of genres that each, in some way or another, exemplify the principles of behavioral science. These songs are organized by the categories of the BEHAVIOR Framework (a mnemonic for remembering different behavior change strategies: Bias, Ego, Habits, Appeal, Visceral, Incentives, Others, Reminders), and will be released with their descriptions in the coming weeks, one category at a time.

There’s no contesting it: Humans are a biased bunch. As the Cognitive Codex from Better Humans illustrates so overwhelmingly, there are myriad ways in which we systematically make blunders, whether it’s seeking out information that supports our pre-existing beliefs (confirmation bias), weighing harmful actions as worse than equally harmful inactions (omission bias), or overestimating the impact of our future emotional states (impact bias). Rather than thinking statistically, we estimate the likelihood of something happening based on how easily it comes to mind (availability bias). Try it yourself: Which is more likely — death by sharks, or vending machines?  (For a deep dive on the topic of bias, see this article from Behavioral Scientist.)

Systematic biases color human decision-making in life, but also in music. Bias is front and center in The Beths’ examination of psychological connectedness and regret in their song “Future Me Hates Me.” And in the Clash’s timeless ballad of indecision, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” Alain Samson notes that the Clash’s Mick Jones “expects that taking action (going) will be bad (akin to an error of commission), but not taking action (staying) could be even worse (‘If I go, there will be trouble; And if I stay it will be double’), akin to an error of omission.” And the human state of subjectivity is never more evident than in “20/20 Vision” where Chris Thile and Michael Daves claim 20/20 vision but are “walkin’ ’round blind.” 

These displays of bias in music (and more) appear in the ultimate behavioral science playlist, a compilation of songs that demonstrate common behavioral principles. These songs are organized by the categories of the BEHAVIOR Framework (a mnemonic for remembering different behavior change strategies: Bias, Ego, Habits, Appeal, Visceral, Incentives, Others, Reminders). 

In collaboration with behavioral scientists from eight cooperating organizations (Action Design, Behavioral Grooves, Habit Weekly,, ideas42, Behavioral Scientist, PeopleScience and Betterment), we are pleased to share the ultimate behavioral science playlist with you. We hope you enjoy it, and share it with one other person!

Listen to the Ultimate Behavioral Science Playlist:


Songs About the Behavioral Principle: Bias


Bias Precommitment Planning Fallacy

I Can Change

LCD Soundsystem
Erik Johnson
Contributor, Action Design

"But there's love in your eyes
Love in your eyes
Love in your eyes
But maybe that's just what your lover finds all night

And I can change, I can change, I can change, I can change
I can change, I can change, I can change
If it helps you fall in love (in love)"

In LCD Soundsystem’s “”I Can Change,”” the thrashing back and forth of good intentions and bad implementations is illustrated, bringing forward the challenges wrought by the planning fallacy. Attempts to precommit to change may or may not hold.

Bias Present Bias Future Self Psychological Connectedness Regret

Future Me Hates Me

The Beths
Omar Parbhoo; Ingrid Melvaer Paulin
Contributor, ideas42 & CAH

"Future heart break, future headaches
Wide eyed nights late lying awake
With future cold shakes from stupid mistakes
Future me hates me for, hates me for
Future heart break, future headaches"

The Beths, in their song “Future Me Hates Me,” sing about how we make decisions that are fun in the moment despite knowing that we are making our lives harder in the future.

Bias Visibility Bias Limited Attention Present Bias Self-Control

Circle K

Pedro the Lion
Perry Wright
Contributor, Center for Advanced Hindsight

"Got a little allowance from doing chores
Saving up for a Santa Cruz skateboard
Kid sister said ""How much have you saved?""
I calculated then hung my head in shame

I spent it all at Circle K
Dreaming it was only pocket change"

At the risk of being too on-the-nose for a behavioral economics playlist, “Circle K” recalls the experience of many of us who have failed to sustain a savings campaign as a central metaphor for squandering any number of things in life. A child wants a skateboard and will have to save his allowance, or even a portion of it, week after week to eventually afford it. But the Circle K convenience store provides endless temptation for a child with a little cash, and soon the money is gone. Among the many behavioral principles at play in this familiar scenario are visibility bias, that consumption is more salient than non-consumption because it is accompanied by a visible byproduct, and limited attention, that we struggle to focus on more than just a few things at a time, as well as present bias and lack of self-control.

Bias Confirmation Bias

She Thinks I Still Care

George Jones
Tim Houlihan
Contributor, Behavioral Grooves

"Just because I asked a friend about her
Just becuase I spoke her name somewhere
Just because I'm not the happy guy I used to be

She thinks I still care"

Country songs can make the best behavioral observations! George Jones’ classic lyric in “She Thinks I Still Care” took into consideration the biases we have around believing we are more endowed than we are, happier than we think we are, and stronger that we show up as…at least sometimes.

Bias Impact Bias Affective Forecasting

Break My Face

Troy Campbell
Contributor, Center for Advanced Hindsight

"So if I break my face, and I don't look so great
My face is just my face (my face)

So if I break my face, it ain't my darkest day
My face is just my face
I’m okay"

In “Break My Face,” AJR avoid impact bias, or the tendency for people to overestimate the length or the intensity of future emotional states, by demonstrating that even if a horrible event like breaking one’s face were to occur, it would not have the long lasting level of negativity one might think it would.

Bias Temporal Discounting Hyperbolic Discounting

If We Were Vampires

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
Kurt Nelson
Contributor, Behavioral Grooves

"If we were vampires and death was a joke
We'd go out on the sidewalk and smoke
And laugh at all the lovers and their plans
I wouldn't feel the need to hold your hand
Maybe time running out is a gift"

Jason writes one of the most poignant love songs ever: “If We Were Vampires,” realizing that a warped perception of time has a huge influence on how we perceive love. The idea our own limited time on earth drives deeper focus on relationships.

Bias Procrastination Self-Control Ostrich Effect Information Avoidance

I Blew it Off

Punch Brothers
Jonathan Corbin
Contributor, Center for Advanced Hindsight

"We've all got an American share
Of 21st century stress

See the oceans rising
Leaves the nations crying
At heaven's door
I blew it off, I blew it off"

“I Blew it Off” is a song lamenting the stresses of 21st century life and the tendency to respond by putting things off or avoid them altogether, as with the ostrich effect. Procrastination is no stranger to the Punch Brothers in this song.

Bias Social Norms Relativity Intention-Action Gap

Pleasant Valley Sunday

The Monkees
Tim Houlihan
Contributor, Behavioral Grooves

"See Mrs. Gray, she's proud today
Because her roses are in bloom
And Mr. Green, he's so serene
He's got a TV in every room

Another pleasant valley Sunday
Here in Status Symbol Land
Mothers complain about how hard life is
And the kids just don't understand"

Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote this about their street in West Orange, New Jersey, and the Monkee’s recording of “Pleasant Valley Sunday” went to number 3 in the US and to number 1 in Canada. The song is ripe with social norms from the cynical eye of the songwriter. “Mr. Green, he’s so serene, he’s got a TV in every room” was about as cutting as you might imagine for the “peace and love” ’60’s.

Bias Distraction Limited Attention


Jonathan Corbin
Contributor, Center for Advanced Hindsight

"Can you focus on me?
Baby, can you focus on me? Babe

Hands in the soap
Have the faucet's running and I keep looking at you
Stuck on your phone and you're stuck in your zone
You don't have a clue"

The singer of H.E.R. wishes her partner would stop being so distracted by other things and focus what’s important – their relationship.

Bias Decision Paralysis Errors of Commission vs. Omission Regret

Should I Stay or Should I Go

The Clash
Alain Samson

"Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go, there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know

This indecision's bugging me...."

In “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash, the singer laments his partner’s inability to decide whether or not to continue their relationship (“Should I stay or should I go”?). He expects that taking action (going) will be bad (akin to an error of omission), but not taking action (staying) could be even worse (“If I go, there will be trouble; And if I stay it will be double”), akin to an error of omission.

Bias Risk Seeking Uncertainty Prospect Theory

Ace of Spades

Alain Samson

"If you like to gamble, I tell you I'm your man
You win some, lose some, all the same to me
The pleasure is to play, makes no difference what you say
I don't share your greed, the only card I need is the Ace of Spades

You know I'm born to lose, and gambling's for fools
But that's the way I like it baby
I don't wanna live for ever

The song “Ace of Spades” by Motorhead is all about the singer’s love for gambling, while being conscious that the cards are stacked against him in some places (“You know I’m born to lose, and gambling’s for fools”) and implying he’s risk seeking / not averse to loss in others (“You win some, lose some, it’s all the same to me”; “I don’t wanna live for ever”).

Bias Information Avoidance Ostrich Effect

20/20 Vision

Chris Thile and Michael Daves
Jonathan Corbin
Contributor, Center for Advanced Hindsight

"I went to the doctor he says I'm all right
I know he's lying, I'm losing my sight
He should have examined the eyes of my mind
20/20 vision and walkin' 'round blind

With my eyes wide open I lay in my bed
If it wasn't for dying, I wish I was dead
But this is my punishment, death is too kind
20/20 vision and walkin' 'round blind"

Chris Thile and Michael Daves sing about perfect vision, but when it comes to a special someone in “20/20 Vision,” they can’t see clearly through the ‘eyes of the mind.’

Bias Information Avoidance Ostrich Effect

Ignorance Is Bliss

Alain Samson

"Ignorance is bliss, ya know it's true
Ignorance is bliss, just look at you
Is it goin' anywhere?

I'm alive, I'm alive, I'm alive, yeah!
What's happening to our society?
Disintegration of humanity
Destruction of the environment"

The song “Ignorance Is Bliss” by the Ramones is about people’s ostrich mentality in relation to social problems. It is easier to ignore the problems of society than it is to face them.

Bias Belief Bias


John Mayer
Jonathan Corbin
Contributor, Center for Advanced Hindsight

"Is there anyone who ever remembers
Changing their mind from the paint on a sign?
Is there anyone who really recalls
Ever breaking record off
For something someone yelled real loud one time?

Oh, everyone believes
In how they think it ought to be
Oh, everyone believes
And they're not going easily"

It is very difficult to change firmly held beliefs. In John Mayer’s “Belief,” he describes the stubbornness of people and resistance to changing their minds, declaring that the battle to change people is not one that can be won.

Bias Prospect Theory Loss Aversion Regret

Big Yellow Taxi

Joni Mitchell
Omar Parbhoo
Contributor, ideas42

"Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And they put up a parking lot"

Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” highlights how we don’t value things appropriately until we lose them. It’s a perfect example of loss framing.

Bias Status Quo Bias


Lynyrd Skynyrd
Tim Houlihan
Contributor, Behavioral Grooves

"If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?
For I must be traveling on, now
Cause there's too many places I've got to see

But, if I stayed here with you, girl
Things just couldn't be the same
Cause I'm as free as a bird now
And this bird you can not change"

What else needs to be said than the great lyric at the end of the chorus of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird”: “And this bird you cannot change.” Don’t even try taking me beyond where I’m at. I’m not going to change!