Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Music genre and emotion

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Music genre and emotion:
How do different types of music induce different emotions?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Music is a very crucial and universally loved aspect of life and culture. Not a day goes by where people don’t hear music. Whether it’s hearing it on the radio in the car, hearing it in a coffee shot, or listening to personal music on an ipod or an MP3 player. People’s taste in music however varies completely. There are countless genres that speak do different people, and it can arguably be a way of describing someone’s personality and how they chose to express themselves. Knowing this, can these genres induce certain emotions in people? What is music and how does it relate to emotions that people feel and express?

There are many aspects in human motivation and emotion that can be explored through what people listen to in their everyday life. They also raise different questions that can help understand what makes humans tick. For example, can a happy, up-beat song make people happy? Can a soothing, minor-toned song make people feel more sad? Is there a difference between the emotions induced by music with lyrics compared to those without? The focus is on how genre can differentiate how people feel when they listen to them. These kinds of questions will be touched upon in this chapter, in order to offer further explanation of how people can differ in terms of what kind of music they listen to. This chapter explores one of the most personal and self-expressive phenomenon that is present in our culture and social world.

What is music?[edit | edit source]

Some of humans' strongest emotions may be brought on by listening to a piece of music. A basic definition of music is the chronological organization of sounds, making certain sounds at certain times, which make melodic, rhythmic and hormonic sense.

What it consists of[edit | edit source]

  • rhythm
  • melody
  • dynamics
  • timbre
  • structure
  • texture

The rhythm is like a pulse, a repetition of sounds in a pattern. Melody refers to the pitch is describing how high or low a note sounds. The dynamics is how loudly or softly a note is played. An example of timbre would be the scratchy sound of an electric guitar versus the soft, rounded sound of the piano. Structure is the variations of the mentioned aspects to create a cohesive musical piece. Then there’s texture, which refers to the layering of sounds on top of each other. How all of these are put together depends on what kind of genre it is.

Genre[edit | edit source]

Genre refers to the type of music that is expressed. There are numerous musical styles but there are three that are the big stand-outs. There’s classical, rock and jazz. 
Classical music is one of the oldest forms of music, but is still delightful to some people. “It’s recognized by it’s complex relationship between its emotional qualities and the very complex and intellectual means by which it is achieved.”[factual?] Rock music is probably the most popular forms of music that most younger generations listen to. Then there is Jazz music, which is characterized for it’s free form and expressive nature and ability to incorporate a number of cultural influences in to it’s varying styles.

This all plays into what people choose to listen to based on what their interests are and how they choose to express themselves in social settings. The human and emotion piece comes into play when thinking about how music can speak to people in certain ways.

Why do we listen to music? Researchers say that one reason it appeals to people is due to the emotional rewards that music offers it’s listeners[factual?]. Zentner mentioned in an article a couple studies done [Rewrite to improve clarity] that discussed this. These studies were conducted to compile a list of music-relevant emotion terms and to study the frequency of both felt and perceived emotions across 5 groups of listeners with distinct music preferences. Emotional responses varied greatly according to musical genre and type of responses based on what people felt versus what they perceived[Provide more detail][explain?].

What is emotion?[edit | edit source]

Let's back up and say that emotion is something that’s not easily defined. It involves the complex psychophysiological experience of an individual’s state of mind as interacting with biochemical and environmental influences[factual?]. It usually involves “physiological arousal, expressive behaviors and conscious experience".

What are emotions?

The main emotion that describes neutral would be surprise. The positive emotions are interest, joy, and contentment. Then the negative emotions are fear, anger, disgust, contempt, shame or guilt.[factual?]

Notice how there seem to be many more negative emotions than there are positive ones. This is something that still fascinates many researchers in the field of motivation and emotion. It’s something that can be further explored in terms of how music and the different music genres can induce certain emotions. Is it easier to become happy or is it easier to experience emotions of fear or anger?

It[what?] starts with a significant situational event, such as listening to music in certain contexts, which then is processes [spelling?] cognitively or biologically which gives a person feelings, sense of purpose, bodily arousal, and social expression. The presence of people and other external factors are easily enough [Rewrite to improve clarity] to make someone experience a certain emotion. The basic emotions are categorized into positive, negative and neutral.

Neuropsychological standpoint[edit | edit source]

What’s going on in the Brain?[edit | edit source]

When brain activity is measured, cerebral blood flow increases and decreases were observed in brain regions thought to be involved in reward/motivation, emotion, and arousal, including ventral striatum, midbrain, amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex and ventral medial prefrontal cortex.

So, when dealing with human emotion, there is going to be some neurobiological component to the process of emotions based on situational events[factual?].

Krumhansl’s study

Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion[factual?]. They used position emission tomography to study neural mechanisms underlying intensely pleasant emotional responses to music. It was found that cerebral blood flow changes were measured in response to subject-selected music that elicited the highly pleasurable experience of “shiver-down-spine” or “chills” These findings conclude that music can be biologically relevant, survival related stimuli via their common recruitment of brain circuitry involved in pleasure and reward. “Significant increases in physiological activity were observed during the chills, relative to the control music condition, consistent with previous reports of psychophysiological activity changes during emotional responses to music” (Krumhansl).

An article at this address (here ) gives great insight and graphs that give a better visual of what's going on in the brain while listening to music.

“Researchers have also studied musical emotions without regard to how they were evoked, or have assumed that the emotions must be based on the default mechanism for emotion induction, or cognitive appraisal” (Juslin). A lot of this research can be studied from an observational standpoint. Based on changes in facial expression and mood[grammar?].

Lars Lundquist mentioned a [what?] study in his article [factual?] about emotional responses to music. The study focused on measuring self-reported emotion, facial muscle activity, and autonomic activity in 32 participants while they listened to popular music composed with either a happy or a sad emotional expression. Results from these recordings revealed a coherent manifestation in the experimental response system, which supports the emotivist position[explain?]. “Happy music generated more zygomatic facial muscle activity, greater skin conductance, lower finger temperature, more happiness and less sadness than sad music” (Lundquist)

Happy music vs. sad music[edit | edit source]

What is the difference between happy music and sad music? Depending on what genre you listen to there is a certain tempo that people can be interested in. Whether it’s upbeat such as rock or hip hop, or more on the softer side such as jazz or classical. It was found by Thoma, that specific emotion-regulation styles might influence the selection of pieces of music characterized by specific emotions. It can all depend on how a certain person feels at the time or what is going on with them emotionally at a certain moment in their lives.

Researchers in the study that Thoma mentioned, wanted to examine whether specific emotion-regulation styles influence music selection in specific situations. The data analysis by means of non-metric multidimensional scaling revealed a clear preference for pieces of music that were emotionally congruent with an emotional stimulation. No matter how much is being processed when people are listening to music it can all depend on what their emotional state is at the time. Whether they're happy, sad, angry or fearful.

Hunter’s study[factual?][edit | edit source]

People were put through a study to measure feelings and perceptions of happiness and sadness produced by music. Happiness ratings were elevated for fast-tempo and major-key stimuli, sadness ratings were elevated for slow-tempo and minor-key stimuli. Listeners then rated how happy and how sad the music made them feel, and the happiness and sadness expressed by the music. Feelings and perceptions ratings were highly correlated but perception ratings were higher than feelings ratings, particularly for music with consistent cues to happiness (fast-tempo, major mode) or sadness (slow-tempo, minor mode) and for sad sounding music in general. These findings can show that feelings were mediated by their perceptions of the emotions that were conveyed by the music. A genre that’s considered happy versus sad has also been known to be characterized as pleasant versus unpleasant music based on tastes in the music. That is highlighted in the next study.


In this certain study, [grammar?] electrophysiological correlates of the processing of pleasant and unpleasant music. Pleasant and unpleasant emotions were induced by consonant and dissonant music[for example?]. Unpleasant music evoked a significant decrease of heart rate, replicating the pattern of heart rate responses previously described for the processing of emotional pictures, sounds and films. He stated that “in the EEG, pleasant emotions were accompanied by an increase of FM theta power, which is interpreted as an effect of emotional processing closely interlinked with attentional functions” (Sammler).

Lyric vs. non lyric[edit | edit source]

Brattico performed explored [Rewrite to improve clarity] what emotions can be evoked in music with lyrics and music without lyrics. The brain activity was measured with functional MRI technology. Using participants self-selected musical experts, we [who?] studied their behavior and brain responses to elucidate how lyrics interact with musical emotion processing, as reflected by emotion recognition and activation of limbic areas involved in affective experience. Behavioral ratings revealed that happy music without lyrics induced stronger positive emotions than happy music with lyrics (Brattico). Could this be because music without lyrics can allow us as humans to “add our own” meaning or story to the sound? So that we can better identify with the music itself rather than the story that’s behind it?

All of this is depending on the significant differences in activity in different areas of the brain[grammar?]. So how does this work for sad music? The findings of this study concluded that sad music is activated with the right caudate head and the left thalamus, which is the side that processes faces. “Lyrics appear to be crucial for defining the sadness of a musical piece, as reflected in the activation of limbic system areas of the brain, whereas acoustic cues have a stronger role in determining the experience of happiness in music, as shown by activity in auditory cortical regions. So it’s specific to a certain region where the processing of the music genre occurs[grammar?]. It’s fascinating in the sense that it can depend on the situation in which a person hears the music[explain?]. It can also just be a certain music interest that speaks to certain people on so many levels[explain?].

Behavioral effects[edit | edit source]

Seidel[factual?][edit | edit source]

The researchers of this certain study knew that music can be a big trigger for emotion. “To induce emotional states we selected two pieces of music, a piece of Japanese “noise music” consisting of harsh, dissonant and jarring sounds made on acoustic and electric instruments, and a piece of classical music” (Seidel). Noise music was used to induce a non-moral form of anger and the classical music chosen to induce feelings of uplifted happiness. Experiments provide empirical support for the thesis that happiness increases judgements of moral goodness and obligation, and that anger reduces these judgements[explain?]. These findings also prove that there is a definite difference in the type of music genre, being sad or uplifting[explain?].

Social context[edit | edit source]

It has been a known fact that music is a part of people’s culture that can shape their lives[factual?]. There have been many stereotypes that have been made based on the music some people listen to. For example, if a person listens to heavy metal music, even though it has somewhat of an upbeat tempo, does that make them act happy? The genre people listen to and the actual emotions it gives them can be two different things. For instance, in 1999 at Columbine high school in Colorado, the two teenage boys that killed themselves along with eleven other teenagers were said to be playing violent video games and violent kind of music[factual?]. Did what they listen to have an effect on the choices they made?

Everybody has their own tastes in music and they all react to it in different ways. Of course that’s all due to how differently people live their lives and how people deal with emotions in various ways.

Benefits/therapy[edit | edit source]

How can this help?

Even though some can experience sad emotions while listening to certain genres of music, there are often times where it can make people experience positive emotions. With the information provided in this chapter, there are many ways that we as humans can use it to our advantage. If it can predict the way people may respond or if it can stop a certain person from acting out then we can use this for certain behavioral techniques.

Music therapy[edit | edit source]

A big part of an individual in the social world is their self-esteem. Julia Haines, a composer/performer and a freelance music therapist helps young people in educational and hospital settings[factual?]. She states that music therapy has been demonstrated to be an effective modality for this client population and has also been shown to increase self-esteem. The purpose of her study was to determine the specific effects of music therapy upon self-esteem of emotionally disturbed adolescents. Nineteen subjects that were identified as emotionally-disturbed participated in the study while attending a private school. Subjects in the music therapy group initiated work from the beginning, playing music together, discussing, criticizing, reflecting and changing their relationships. “One subject reflected upon the process in the last session: ‘I thought this was supposed to be therapy or something...Well, we did get our feelings out, and it sure felt good to come in and play the drums when I was angry.’ Many subjects wanted to continue the project” (Haines).

No matter what kind of genre helps people cope with stress or sadness, music can provide the therapy needed to pull through it. Not for everybody of course, but music can be very helpful for people with mental disturbances or illness[factual?]. The ability to release these [what?] kinds of emotions are why people listen to certain types of music[factual?]. It’s something that can be helpful with people who are suffering from depression[factual?]. Music therapy is also said to provide an effective non-intrusive mood introduction technique, which has shown to play a role in the regulation of emotions by depressed people in everyday contexts. (seeMotivation_and_emotion/Depression). People don’t have to be suffering from a diagnosed mental illness to be able to use music therapeutically. It can help people get through stresses in their everyday life[factual?]. It can help people push through sad moments and it can escalate the happy moments[factual?]. Human emotion is a big part of how they behave, and it’s something that’s to be treated delicately. Something so personal can really save someone, and encourage them to live a life filled with joy[grammar?]. Everybody works at their own pace and copes in their own way. Music therapy can take time and effort, but the payoff is something that these patients are grateful for.

Something to think About![edit | edit source]

  • What genre of music do you like to listen to?
  • Do you ever think about what you are actually feeling when you listen to music? Why or why not?
  • Describe a time where music really calmed you down or pumped you up
  • Do you agree or disagree with the fact that musical therapy can help people who are mentally disturbed? Why?

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

This chapter mainly covers what the aspects of emotion are when they are evoked by certain types of music genres. Music is a universally loved part of people’s lives and their culture. It’s heard in many different places almost everyday and there is a huge variety of what it means to have music define a person. It can be a form of self expression, and it can provide a way to find common interests with other people. It’s fascinating how different music speaks to people and how differently people interpret them. Every human truly beats to their own drum and it’s something that shows in all the research studies. There is definite neurological activity going on in the human brain while listening to music that can impact how people can experience emotion[factual?]. People cope with things in various ways and it all depends on what emotional state a person is in and what situation they are currently in[explain?]. The chapter glossed over [grammar?] genres included rock music to classical music, what is a happy/pleasant tempo compared to a sad/unpleasant one. What a difference a song with lyrics can make compared to a song that doesn’t have lyrics[grammar?][explain?]. Whether music can effect people’s judgements of situations and how they choose to act upon them[grammar?]. And finally how music genres can be beneficial[explain?]. It can be used as music therapy to people who have mental illnesses, and can help people deal with loss or cope with tragedy. Music can bring about a [what?] certain peace in people, it can be cathartic and it can be something that’s purely for entertainment in order to live life to the fullest[factual?]. It’s a phenomenon that will be ever present in human life.

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Anne J. Blood and Robert J. Zatorre. Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion PNAS 2001 98 (20) 11818-11823


Brattico, Elvira. (2011). A functional MRI study of happy and sad emotions in music with and without lyrics. Frontiers in Psychology. 2: 38

Haines, Julia. (1989). The effects of Music Therapy and the Self-Esteem of Emotionally-Disturbed Adolescents. Oxford Journals. 8. Pp. 78-81

Hunter, Patrick G.; Schellenberg, E. Glenn; Schimmack, Ulrich. Feelings and perceptions of happiness and sadness induced by music: Similarities, differences, and mixed emotions. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, Vol 4(1), Feb 2010, 47-56

Koelsch, S. (2014). Brain correlates of music-evoked emotions. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 15(3), 170-180

Krumhansl C L(1997) Can J Exp Psychol 51:336–352.

Lundquist, Lars-Olvov (2009). Emotional Responses to Music: experience, expression and physiology. Psychology of Musi. doi.10.1177/0305735

Patrik N. Juslin and Daniel Västfjäll (2008). Emotional responses to music: The need to consider underlying mechanisms. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 31, pp 559-575.

Sammler, D. (2007). Music and emotion: Electrophysiological correlates of the processing of pleasant and unpleasant music. Psychophysiology, 44(2), 293-304.

Seidel, A. (2013). Mad and glad: Musically induced emotions have divergent impact on morals. Motivation & Emotion, 37(3), 629-637

Thoma, M. M. (2012). Emotion regulation through listening to music in everyday situations. Cognition & Emotion, 26(3), 550-560.

Zentner, Marcel; Grandjean, Didier; Scherer, Klaus R.Emotions evoked by the sound of music: Characterization, classification, and measurement. Emotion, Vol 8(4), Aug 2008, 494-521.