The Ultimate Behavioral Science Playlist: Visceral

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.

Much of behavioral science is grounded in the distinction between two decision-making processes: that of System 1 and System 2. Whereas System 1 is known for being fast, instinctive and emotional, System 2 is slow, deliberative and logical. The role of visceral decision-making falls squarely in the realm of System 1, as it is immediate, intuitive, and rarely based in reason. By tearing at our heartstrings and coloring perceptions with vivid imagery and detail, visceral emotions can hijack our brains and make decisions for us (in the short term, at least). This is why an identifiable individual, described in great detail, evokes greater sympathy than many anonymous individuals. People are much more willing to donate money to this child than to a statistic.

The affect heuristic describes how we use our emotions as a mental shortcut when we make decisions based on our emotions. We don’t realize how our emotions influence us because of the empathy gap; when we make decisions in a “cold” (unemotional) state, we are unable to imagine how differently we would behave in a “hot” (emotional) state. 

A prime example of decision-making in a “hot” state, overcome by visceral factors, is seen in Meatloaf’s “Paradise By The Dashboard Light.” As Dan Ariely reflects, “this song depicts a less-than-love story where a man is overtaken by the hot-cold empathy gap, pressured to say he loves a woman when aroused. As research might support, things do not work out so well for the couple in the long term.”

This display of the role of visceral factors 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: Visceral


Visceral Hot-Cold Empathy Gap

Paradise By The Dashboard Light

Dan Ariely
Contributor, Center for Advanced Hindsight

"Will you take me away and will you make me your wife?
I gotta know right now
Before we go any further
Do you love me?
Will you love me forever?

Let me sleep on it
Baby, baby let me sleep on it
Let me sleep on it
And I'll give you an answer in the morning"

In this masterpiece by Meatloaf, Paradise By The Dashboard Light depicts a less-than-love story where a man is overtaken by the hot-cold empathy gap, pressured to say he loves a woman when aroused, or in a “hot” state. As research might support, things do not work out so well for the couple in the long term.

Visceral Emotion

The Business of Emotion

Big Data, White Sea
Dan Egan
Contributor, Betterment

Feel good
Make you feel good
I’m looking for emotion
So I know just what to show you
I can see you
See your answers
This business of emotion
Yeah I know just what to show you, baby

Nothing quite captures the misuse of behavioral strategies for financial benefit as does “The Business of Emotion” by Big Data, where the tactic of evoking emotion is abused to bring in the dollars. As a victim of this tactic, you have no choice but to go along with the manipulation; “Doesn’t matter if you like it or not, Doesn’t matter if you don’t wanna play my game.”

Visceral Autonomy Emotion System 1 & System 2 Visual Images

Freedom 90

George Michael
Jeff Kreisler
Contributor, People Science

"I think there's something you should know
I think it's time I stopped the show
There's something deep inside of me
There's someone I forgot to be
Take back your picture in a frame
Don't think that I'll be back again
I just hope you understand
Sometimes the clothes do not make the man"

In this song that comes on whenever I want to show my kids how anger can turn into an ass-shaking dance party, George Michael rebels against an entertainment industry that has provided him traditional markers of success – money, fame, adoration – but done so through controlling his actions and image. In “Freedom 90,” he wants the freedom to make his own choices, to present the image of who he really is. He wants autonomy. The song also plays with the difference between how those traditional markets of success pray on our emotional brain even when our rational, evidence brain says otherwise. System 1 vs. System 2. I mean, “It looks like the road to heaven, but it feels like the road to hell”? C’mon. Also, we know that visual images communicate ideas more easily, aid memory and can elicit powerful emotions… and this music video is super hot.

Visceral Affective Forecasting


Aline Holzwarth
Contributor, Center for Advanced Hindsight

"Some things just aren't that simple
You called me wondering why I changed
Or why I don't look the same
Why are things so differently now?

Is it ever gonna change?
Am I gonna feel this way forever?"

Clairo wonders in “4EVER” whether it will ever change, or if she’ll be left feeling this way forever. As research on affective forecasting demonstrates, people are reliably poor at making these types of predictions of future states. Someone should reassure Clairo that she will most likely not feel this way forever.

Visceral Emotion Lust Hedonism

Love the One You're With

Stephen Stills
Tim Houlihan
Contributor, Behavioral Grooves

"If you're down and confused
And you don't remember who you're talking to
Concentration slips away
Because you're baby is so far away"

Stephen Stills is a literary writer with songs that have no problem referencing English and American literature. However, in his song “Love the One You’re With,” he boils it down to to the power of emotions (and libido) and is basically saying, “Just give in.” Truly hedonic, if not all out hedonistic.

Visceral Hope Optimism Happiness Emotion

Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – But I Have It

Lana Del Rey
Troy Campbell
Contributor, Center for Advanced Hindsight

"24/7 Sylvia Plath
Writing in blood on your walls
'Cause the ink in my pen don't look good in my pad
They write that I'm happy, they know that I'm not
But at best, you can see I'm not sad
But hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have

Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have
But I have it
Yeah, I have it"

Lana Del Rey ends her amazing 2019 album with a song about hope, but it doesn’t veer toward cheering optimism as it is full of lines like “Don’t ask if I’m happy, you know that I’m not / But at best, I can say I’m not sad.” It is all about the emotion of hope in the midst of chaos, madness, and “24/7 Slyvia Plath,” oh Lana we love you, our ever so extra poignant drama queen.

Visceral Engagement Arousal Thrill-seeking

What's Up Danger

Blackway, Black Caviar
Troy Campbell
Contributor, Center for Advanced Hindsight

"I like it when trouble brews, I won't dare change
I like it when there's turbulence on my airplanes
I like it when I sense things I can't see yet
Swimmin' with sharks when they ain't feed yet
'Cause I like high chances that I might lose
I like it all on the edge just like you, ayy
I like tall buildings so I can leap off of 'em
I go hard wit' it no matter how dark it is"

Research (like the PERMA model) suggests that people don’t always crave things like “positive” emotion, but a sense of high engagement or arousal. This song, What’s Up Danger by Blackway and Black Caviar was featured in Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse, and is all about that idea from jumping off talk buildings to swimming with hungry sharks.

Visceral Hot-Cold Empathy Gap

Fools Rush In

Peggy Sue
Zarak Khan
Contributor, Action Design

"Fools rush in where angels fear to tread
And so I come to you my love
My heart above my head
And though there may
Be danger there
If there's a chance for me
Then I don't care"

We’ve all been there. You do crazy things when you think you’re in love! You ignore the advice of your friends, set aside your doubts and rush headlong into the relationship. It’s hard to imagine how you’ll feel once you’re there and that your feelings will certainly–even if positive–be different. “Fools Rush In” by Peggy Sue is the perfect illustration of the hot-cold empathy gap, contrasting the wisdom of never being in love to the foolhardy decision-making of a person in love.

Visceral Emotion Cognition


Aretha Franklin
Tim Houlihan
Contributor, Behavioral Grooves

"I ain't no psychiatrist, I ain't no doctor with degrees
But, it don't take too much high IQ's
To see what you're doing to me

You better think (think)
Think about what you're trying to do to me
Yeah, think (think, think)
Let your mind go, let yourself be free"

Aretha Franklin’s “Think” is Bob Cialdini’s favorite music to walk onto a stage by. Also, the very young Aretha Franklin (26 years old when written and released) was trying to ply her ludite partner with logic. The listener imagines it failed.

Visceral Regret Fear Emotion Cognition


Ben Folds Five
Jonathan Corbin
Contributor, Center for Advanced Hindsight

"Regrets, regrets
I thought about the hours wasted
Watching TV, drinking beer
I thought about the things I thought about
Until immobilized with fear
And all the great ideas I had
And how we just made fun
Of those who had the guts to try and fail
And then I ended up in jail"

This song, “Regrets, Regrets” by Ben Folds Five, is all about errors of omission. He regrets never trying for anything out of fear of failure.

Visceral Emotion Pain

Love is a Battlefield

Pat Benatar
Tim Houlihan
Contributor, Behavioral Grooves

"Love is a battlefield

You're begging me to go
Then making me stay
Why do you hurt me so bad
It would help me to know
Do I stand in your way
Or am I the best thing you've had"

The narrative in “Love is a Battlefield” by Pat Benatar highlights the idea that we are often cruelest to those who are close to us, which goes against every social norm we can imagine.

Visceral Affective Forecasting


Brad Paisley
Troy Campbell
Contributor, Center for Advanced Hindsight

"We've come so far since that day
And I thought I loved you then

And I can just see you, with a baby on the way
And I can just see you, when your hair is turning gray
What I can't see is how I'm ever gonna love you more
But I've said that before"

In one of the more subtle sophisticated modern country songs, Brad Paisley consistently points out how he contrast thinks he as the peak of loving his partner, but then every few years he loves her even more.

Visceral Information Avoidance Ostrich Effect Self-fulfilling Prophecy

You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go

Madeleine Peyroux
Tim Houlihan
Contributor, Behavioral Grooves

"I've seen love go by my door
It's never been this close before
Never been so easy or so slow
Been shooting in the dark too long
When something's not right it's wrong
You're gonna make me lonesome when you go"

A Bob Dylan song but this version of “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” by Madeline Peyroux is great. In a tender moment, Dylan, at 33 years old, wrote a song about his own regrets over a relationship heading south. The interesting thing is, the song is anticipatory as the lover has not yet left. This makes the whole thing a prophecy to be fulfilled.

Visceral Drive States Emotion Hot-Cold Empathy Gap

Heat of the Moment

Dan Connolly
Contributor, ideas42

"And now you find yourself in eighty two
The disco hot spots hold no charm for you
You can't concern yourself with bigger things
You catch the pearl and ride the dragon's wings
'Cause it's the heat of the moment
Heat of the moment, the heat of the moment
Shone in your eyes"

Asia captures perfectly the effects of drive states on our behavior in “Heat of the Moment” – why be concerned with bigger things when the heat of the moment captures us?

Visceral Emotion Dishonesty

What's on Your Mind?

The Greyhounds
Tim Houlihan
Contributor, Behavioral Grooves

"I tried hard as I can, but I can't seem to understand.
Even though you know what you want, baby, you can't tell me right up front.
I try to search for the answer hidden in your secret codes.
Why do you always say yes when you really mean, no?
Come on, baby say it.
What's on your mind?"

Do we want to hear what people really think? The Greyhounds’ writer/singer in “What’s on Your Mind?” is saying he does, but the way he sings it makes you wonder if he’s just trying to be chivalrous or contemptuous.