Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Motivational music

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Motivational music:
How can music motivate us to exercise?

Overview[edit | edit source]

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Keeping fit and healthy is one of the best things we can do for our physical and mental health everyday. From controlling weight, minimizing the risk of illness and disease, improving sex and sleep, to decreasing stress and lifting mood, exercise provides us with an abundant range of benefits. However, many of us struggle to motivate ourselves to get up and do it regularly. Often this is because extrinsic motives do not carry strong enough incentive, or we adopt performance-avoidance goals. Just as we have innate needs and motives for achievement, we too have strong motives to avoid failure (Reeve, 2009, p. 179). For many people, especially those who have not exercised in a long time, avoiding exercise means avoiding possible failure like failing to achieve performance goals, embarrassing oneself, or appearing incompetent (Reeve, 2009, p. 78, 179). This is referred to as a performance-avoidance goal (Reeve, 2009, p. 179). People who adopt performance-avoidance goals are more likely to underperform and give up earlier (Reeve, 2009, p. 179) and this makes it difficult to endure any form of exercise. However, not everyone avoids exercise out of fear of failure. Sometimes our incentives to exercise are just not strong enough or do not persist over time. Most people, if not all people, naturally apply extrinsic motivations to exercise. Extrinsic motivations are those that arise from “environmental incentives and consequences” (Reeeves, 2009, p. 113). These may include going to the gym because you already paid for membership, hopes of being more attractive, winning trophies in competition, or getting a good grade in PE class (Vallerand, 2004). While extrinsic motivations are strong motivational tools for people, especially athletes, they often incur hidden costs of reward and are short term. Hidden costs of reward undermine intrinsic values of exercise by emphasizing the extrinsic rewards. The problem with hidden costs is that once these extrinsic goals or rewards have been met, like receiving the trophy, the motivation to exercise no longer exists. Sometimes these extrinsic motivations just lack strong value to the exerciser. For example, ‘letting go of yourself’ because you are already married and are no longer trying to impress possible partners. Although extrinsic motivations are very useful, intrinsic motivations are a lot more effective. Intrinsic motivations are those that spontaneously arise from personal interest and innate psychological needs (Reeves, 2009, p. 111). They produce feelings of autonomy, competence and relatedness and encourage persistence and optimal functioning and wellbeing (Reeves, 2009, p. 112-113). All of which are essential for motivation to exercise. Sometimes we need ergogenic tool to help us let go of performance-avoidance goals and to create strong intrinsic motivations for long term and satisfying exercise accomplishment. Music has been found to facilitate and drive intrinsic motivation for endurance, cardiovascular and aerobic exercise (Brooks, 2010). This chapter explores how music is motivational and how we can utilise it to create intrinsic motivations for long term and satisfying exercise, and to set achievable goals.

Responses to music[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Emotional Responses[edit | edit source]

Firstly, lets look at music and emotion. Although we know very little about the complex neuroscience of how and why certain music elicits certain emotions for different people, we do know that it can evoke strong emotional experiences (Menon, p. 175). We also know that emotions are extremely motivational (Reeves, 298). When we feel happy we tend to behave enthusiastically and when we feel sad we tend to behave in a withdrawn manner. Daniel Bishop, author of Boom boom how: Optimizing performance with music (2010), suggests that the acoustical properties of music are responsible for mediating our emotional responses. He suggests properties such as tempo, volume, harmony and melody all contribute what which emotions we feel and their intensity (Bishop, 2010). Studies have shown that music with medium (120 beats per minute) and fast (121-140 beats per minute) tempo and high volume tend to promote high-energy emotions like excitement and anger (Karageorghis, et. al., 2008). Excitement and anger are functional emotions that induce action tendencies (Reeves, 2008, p. 318). This is because parts of the brain like the motor cortex (see Physiological responses) are activated and tell the body to act in response to these emotions. Likewise, when feel-good emotions are elicited from music we can learn to generalize the pleasure experience to the exercising behaviour (Weiten, 2010). Essentially we can learn to feel good when exercising. This is one effective strategy of utilizing our natural psychological and physiological emotional responses of listening to music to motivate exercise.

Preferential Music[edit | edit source]

Making musical motivation and emotional motivation intrinsic often relies on we find pleasure in the music we listen to. Studies have found that music preference and the choice of listening to that music inspires and increases performance and emotional motivation (Bishop, 2010). Although music interpretation and preference of music varies from person to person, we all have our ideas of pleasant and unpleasant music. Daniel Bishop suggests there are two broad sources of emotional responses of music that influence what kind of music we find pleasurable. Firstly, acoustical properties (see Emotional responses) like tempo, volume, harmony and melody synchronize with our natural rhythmicity (Schneider, et. al., 2010, p. 1338) to arouse physiological and emotional responses (Bishop, 2010). Physiological responses are harmonized with several intrinsic variable including heart race, brain cortical activity and vertical bodily oscillations (see Physiological responses)(Schneider, et. al., 2010, p. 1342). Secondly, extra musical associations refer to how our social environment influences our music taste. These include peer and family influences as we often adopt their musical tastes out of conformity. We tend also to like music that we associate with our favorite movies, film clips or any other environmental stimuli. Lastly, we tend to like music out of identification with certain artists or lyrics (Bishop, 2010). All of these elements determine valence. Valence refers to whether we approach or withdraw from physical and psychological responses (Bishop, 2010, p. 36). In this case, it partly determines whether we approach exercise or avoid it. When we listen to pleasant music dopamine and other ‘happy’ (opioid) endorphins are released into mesolimbic structures of the brain (see Physiological responses), which regulate reward processing, pleasure (Menon, et. al., 2005), positive affect and flow (see Setting goals and Intrinsic motivation). This is to say that listening to pleasurable music is innately rewarding and is therefore a behaviour we are likely to repeat. This is important because consistent exercise needs persistent motivations. If we enjoy the music we are listening to, and we apply it to goals (see Setting goals), we are far more likely to feel inspired to continue exercising to music (Bishop, 2010)(Brooks, et. al., 2010).

Physiological Responses[edit | edit source]

The neuroscience of our physiological responses to music is extremely complex and there is still a lot we do not understand (Menon, et. al., 2005)(Karageorghis, et. al., 2013). However, the development of equipment has helped us identify what parts of the brain are activated during music listening including fMRI technology (Menon, et. al. 2005, p. 176). So far we have come to understand that listening to pleasurable music activates the mesolimbic structures, or dopamine pathways, whereby the ventral tegmental area (VTA) releases dopamine into the nucleus accumbens (NAc). Dopamine and the pathways it takes in the brain are known to be responsible for pleasurable feelings and experiences, and mediate responses to reward (see Emotional responses and 2.2 Preferential music) (Menon, et. al., 2005, p. 175). This reward response is in relation to the musical pleasurable experience. However, as the physiological and psychological responses to the pleasurable music intensify, cerebral blood flow increases to the amygdala. The amygdala is too known for arousal of reward motivation, but in this case it is activated in reaction to the movement following the music listening (Menon, et. al., 2005, p. 176)(Brooks, et. al., 2010). The hypothalamus and the insula are also recognized to be responsible for “autonomic and physiological responses to [pleasurable and emotional music]” (Menon, et. al., 2005, p. 175). This includes heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and body oscillation (Schneider, et. al., 2010, p. 1342). For example, have you ever listened to a song that is so harmonically pleasant that you have felt your heart race as you become overwhelmed with emotion? The hippocampus also releases ‘happy’ endorphins (opioids) that contribute to the personal satisfaction of intrinsic motivations and the experience of flow (see Intrinsic motivations) (Brooks, et. al., 2010)( Karageorghis, et. al., 2008))(Karageorghis, et. al., 2013). Have you ever found yourself unconsciously tapping your foot or bopping your head to the beat? This is because rhythm and tempo activate the motor cortex and premotor cortices, which are responsible for generating neural impulses, coordination, and preparing for movement (Bengtsson, et. al., 2009). So, essentially when we listen to music our motor cortices activate which tells us we should be moving and when we do move our impulses become satisfied.

Applying motivational music to exercise[edit | edit source]

Setting Goals[edit | edit source]

With integration of everything spoken about so far, this section will explore exactly how we can use music to motivate us to exercise by setting goals. Goals are anything we are striving to accomplish (Reeves, 2009, p. 211). They derive from intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and strongly direct behaviour because achieving goals gives the exerciser a sense of competence (Reeves, 2009, p. 4). When setting goals there must be a sense of difficulty to energize the exerciser and specificity to direct their behaviour (Reeves, 2009, p. 215). As mentioned earlier, when we listen to pleasant music our autonomic responses, like heart rate, synchronize to match our natural rhythmicity (Schneider, et. al., 2010, p. 1338). So, if we utilise tempo for exercise we can listen to songs with a beat that matches our skill level. For example, if a runner’s natural rhythmicity frequency for running is at 100 beats per minute then music that shared the same tempo would match their skill level and exert easy effort. If the same runner decided to run to music with a tempo of 140 beats per minute, it would exert high effort but likely overwhelm the runner because the skill level does not match the high difficulty level (Reeves, 2008, p. 212). This is why having short-term goals within a long-term goal plan can help us achieve high difficulty tasks. If our runner decided to set a long term goal of being able to easily run at 140 beats per minute, creating short-term goals with help her achieve this (Reeves, 2009, p. 216). Specific, short-term goals may include a minimal increase of beats per minute over a number of weeks. She may also aim to keep up with the tempo of the song for its duration. Studies have shown us that small increases in difficulty level over time lowers our perceived exertion, delays fatigue, increases energy efficiency for higher than expected levels of endurance (Karageorghis, 2013)(Menon, et. al., 2005). All of these affects contribute to satisfaction and achieving long-term goals. Karageorghis, et. al., (2011) finds that medium tempo, at 120 beats per minute, produce the highest level of performance because the difficulty level is not too easy and not too overwhelming for the exerciser and allows for realistic achievement (Reeves, 2008, p. 212). As Reeves suggests (2009, p. 215), when people set goals they also need feedback in order to keep track of any progress they make. This allows for them to make necessary adjustments if hopes or requirements are not being met. Music has been found to be an effective and motivational form of feedback. Authors of Using music as a signal for biofeedback, Ilias Bergstrom et. al., (2013) talk about how our own bodies can give us signals of achievement, and they refer to this as biofeedback. Bergstrom et. al., (2013) suggest that tempo and song duration are effective properties of which we can endure and compare for feedback. For example, a ‘runner’ listening to a fast tempo song (140 beats per minute) running at equal cadence for the duration of the song (3 minutes for example) will receive performance endurance feedback and a sense of competence. If, however, the runner cannot keep up constant equal cadence for the duration of the song then they may feel dissatisfied and have to reevaluate either their skill level or task difficulty level (Reeves, 2009, p. 215)(Bergstrom, 2013).

Intrinsic Motivation[edit | edit source]

Motivating ourselves to exercise can often stem from extrinsic motivations, which are known to be less effective and motivational than intrinsic motivations. Through the use of music it is suggested that we can develop intrinsic motivations to exercise. Intrinsic motivations are those that arise from psychological needs such as autonomy, competence and relatedness (Reeves, 2005, p. 112). When we set goals to endure and persist with medium to high level tempo music and we achieve these goals we feel competent. We can also use music to create autonomy. After pushing past the first threshold of deciding to use music with exercise, it then becomes a choice to persist with goals. In concordance, our emotional responses give rise to the pleasurable experience and allow us to want to exercise. This often occurs unconsciously as positive affect. Positive affect is a general sense of feeling good and this is usually a persistent effect (Reeves, 2009). Through this wanting, we nurture autonomy. Flow is said to be the ‘apotheosis’ of intrinsic motivation (Karageorghis, et. al., 2008). I would suggest that exercise using motivational music is perfectly capable of producing this experience. Flow is “a state of concentration that involves a holistic absorption and deep involvement in an activity” (Reeves, 2009, p. 156). With the combination of pleasurable music that we want to listen to and that becomes associated with exercise itself, strong emotional response, physiological responses and the following rewards of exercise itself, focus on the tempo as synchronous with our movement, and the concentration of achieving short-term and long-term goals, this experience of flow can be experienced and allow for exercise and listening to music to be a truly intrinsically motivated behaviour that will persist over time.

References[edit | edit source]

Bengtsson, S., Ulle ́n, F., Ehrsson, H., Hashimoto, T., Kito, T., Naito, E., Forssberg, H., & Sadato N. (2009). Listening to rhythms activates motor and premotor cortices. Elsevier, 45, 62-71. Retrieved from

Bergstrom, I., Sienfeld, S., Arroyo-Palacios, J., Slater, M., & Sanchez-Vives, M. (2013). Using music as a signal for biofeedback. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 1-10. Retrieved from

Best Headphones for Running Guide. (2013). Sennheiser sport headphones [Image]. Best Headphones for Running Guide. Retrieved from

Bishop, D. (2010). Boom Boom How: Optimising performance with music. Sport & Exercise Psychology Review, 6 (1), 35-47. Retrieved from

Brooks, K., & Brooks, K. (2010). Enhancing sports performance through the use of music. Journal of Exercise Physiology, 13 (2), 52-57. Retrieved from

Karageorghis, C., Hutchinson, J., Jones, L., Farmer, H., Ayhan, M., Wilson, R., Rance, J., Hepworth, C., & Bailey, S. (2013). Psychological, psychophysical, and ergogenic effects of music in swimming. Psychology of sport and exercise, 14, 560-568. Retrieved from

Karageorghis, C., Jones, L., Priest, D., Akers, R., Clarke, A., Perry, J., Reddick, B., Bishop, D., & Lim, H. (2011) Revisiting the Relationship Between Exercise Heart Rate and Music Tempo Preference. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 82, (2), 274-284. Retieved from

Karageorghis, C., Jones, L., & Stuart, P. (2008). Psychological Effects of Music Tempi during Exercise. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 29, (7), 613-619. Doi: 10.1055/s-2007-989266 Menon, V., & Levitin, D. (2005). The rewards of music listening: Response and physiological connectivity of the mesolimbic system. NeuroImage, 28 (1), 175-184. Retrieved from

Reeves, J. (2009). Understanding motivation and emotion (5th ed.). USA: John Wiley & Sons.

Schneider, S. Askew, C., Abel, T. & Struder, H. (2010). Exercise, music and the brain: Is there a central pattern generator? Journal of Sports Sciences, 28, (12), 1337-1343. Retrieved from

Weiten, W. 2010, Psychology: Themes and variations, 8th Edn. Wadsworth, USA.

External links[edit | edit source]