Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Music and emotion
How can music be used to influence emotion?
Think back to a time when you were strongly emotionally swayed by a piece of music. What was so emotionally stimulating about that tune? Apart from any meaningful lyrics, why do you think it caused you to feel so strongly? Firstly there are a variety of questions that need to be considered in order to address how music influences emotion: does music create emotional reactions, and if so how does this happen? Why do we listen to music, and have humans always been interested in music and its uses? And lastly, how can we use this knowledge?
Does music really influence us emotionally, and how?
There are a variety of influences that cause emotion in music. Some of these reactions are perceived differently between individuals. These include musical components and physiological reactions. There are also cognitive aspects to evoking and recognising types of emotion in music. The main focus of this article is on the musical components and accompanying physiological reactions, although cognitive aspects are discussed.
Why do we listen to music?
Music is a leisure activity that occupies somewhere between an estimated two and a half to five hours a day for the average Western teenager (Strasburger & Wilson, 2002), and is a favourite and enduring past time (Chamorrow-Premuzic, Fagan & Furnham, 2010). It seems we choose to listen to music primarily to evoke our emotional experiences (Panksepp, 1995). This modification of emotion is at an ends a rewarding and pleasurable experience for the listener, and this seems to be the greatest reason for listening to music (Salimpoor et al., 2009). Furthermore, those who are not emotionally influenced by music are less likely to enjoy and listen frequently to it, while those who find music highly emotionally evocative will more likely find music most rewarding (Salimpoor et al., 2009).
Evidence of musical instruments has been found to date back as far as 40,000 years (Fitch, 2006). Historically, philosophers believed that music was an imitation of human nature and mind, and that once heard it would be imitated by the listener (Gabrielsson & Juslin, 2003). In fact, Plato was suspicious that music was able to take hold of the soul (Harris, 2004).
Ancient Greeks were more embracing of the evocative nature of music and applied music therapeutically, using it to enhance disharmonised states to drive them from the body (Gabrielsson & Juslin, 2003). Music therapy is documented as far back as 531 BC, where Pythagoreans used music to energise in the morning and relax and reduce worry in the evening (Bidelman & Krishnan, 2009). These applications are still used in musical therapy (Gabrielsson & Juslin, 2003).
What will this chapter cover?
This chapter will cover:
Theories and research
Emotions experienced from listening to music
There has been great variation in the amount of emotions speculated to be evoked by music (Gabrielsson & Juslin, 2003). Zentner, Grandjean and Scherer (2008) attempt to narrow down these emotions to ten factors, as seen in Figure 1.
There are key cues within music structure that are likely to initiate emotional reactions. A fast tempo with a major key will create a positive, happy tune, while a slow tempo with a minor key will induce more negative, sad emotions (Hunter, Schellenberg & Schimmack, 2010). Furthermore the clarity of the tone effects the emotional interpretation.
In a review by Krumhansl (1991) the level of refinement in the music and tone is also an important influence on emotion. Timbre ‘colour’ is another emotional influence (Krout, 2007). The timbre is often dependent on the instrument used; in research by Hailstone, Omar and Henley (2009) the musical instrument used to play a melody affected the emotional interpretation.
Consonance and dissonance are aspects of sound that vary in their clarity. Consonant music is clear and well-defined, while dissonant music is less precisely executed (Dellacherie, Roy, Hugueville, Peretz & Samson, 2011). A tune with more dissonance is more likely to produce unpleasant feelings and induce stronger physiological reactions (Dellacherie et al., 2011; Krumhansl, 1991). The clear and smooth nature of consonant music tends to please a listener, while dissonant tone and music can be aggravating (Dellacherie et al., 2011). This is further explained by how coarse or refined the music is. The greater the coarseness, the more ambiguity and distress is perceived in the tune (Zentner et al., 2008).
Music can also create mixed emotions. Using a combination of both positive and negative stimuli (For example; a fast tempo for positive mood, combined with a minor key for negative mood). Mixed emotions involving both positive and negative emotions simultaneously may occur for a listener (Hunter, Schellenberg & Schimmack, 2010).
Juslin and Västfjäll (2008) conclude from their review that the brain is alerted to a potentially urgent event by certain aspects of music. The arousal of unpleasant feelings or negative emotions appears to be created by musical elements such as dissonance, and sudden and loud sounds. Effectively, the brain is interpreting the music on a basis of important environmental sound which could potentially be dangerous (Juslin & Västjäll, 2008). Further inspections of physiological impact can be made on the emotional influence of music.
Types of physiological reactions
Musical structure can also have a strong impact physiologically (Koelsch, 2010). Effects include heart rate and blood pressure, respiration, electrodermal activity, and body temperature changes (Salimpoor et al., 2009). For further discussion, see Measures of emotional reactions
Central nervous system and heart rate changes
Neural activity may increase and decrease in various emotive areas of the brain, depending on the type of music listened to. "Chills" or “shivers down the spine” are an intense physiological reaction usually experienced at peak emotional points in a music composition (Salimpoor et al., 2009).
Chills may also be experienced on exposure to new dynamic harmonies with changes which the listener was unprepared for (Grewe, Nagel, Kopiez & Altenmuller, 2007). Experience of musical chills leads to cerebral blood flow changes in many brain areas associated with rewarding or motivational stimuli (Blood & Zatorre, 2001; Peretz & Zatorre 2005) that are also associated with reward centres for drugs and food (Small et al., 2001). Heart rate is greater during negative emotive stimulation from music (Coutinho & Cangelosi 2011), possibly due to negative emotive stimulation weighing in as more significant to an individual than positive emotions (Dellacherie et al., 2011).
Hormones and neurotransmitters
Dopamine is released if music progression meets certain expectations, especially at peak emotional points in a piece of music (Samilpoor et al., 2011). These emotional expectations are further explained in Cognitive and learning aspects. Music may also vary the levels of cortisol, epinephrine, opiods, and receptiveness to gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA). Additional information on these hormonal and neurotransmitter changes are discussed in the Applications section of this chapter.
Why do one’s musical preferences differ from another's? Furthermore, does everyone experience emotion from music in the same way? Personality, age and emotional intellect are possible influences on these differences.
Personality is an important moderator of emotional perception and influence in music. According to research by Vouskoski (2011), Extroverts are more likely to be sensitive and attuned to "happy" music, while those scoring high on Neuroticism are more likely to be strongly emotionally affected by ‘sad’ music.
Researchers Chamorrow-Premuzic, Fagan & Furnham (2010) also note that Extroverts more commonly use upbeat music as a background to other activities, in line with a need for more environmental arousal. Lastly they point to a link in the personality trait of Openness to Experience, with a high score corresponding with a taste for complex music.
Emotional Intelligence (EI) is also a predictor of how an individual uses music, and how perceptive they are to emotions expressed within the music. However, EI is not as strong a predictor to emotional perception and influence as Extroversion and Neuroticism (Chamorrow-Premuzic et al., 2010). This research is however limited with the use of self-report measures, and could be replicated with physiological measures for further support.
Age may also have an effect on emotional perception. Older adults generally do not recognise negative emotions as sensitively as younger adults, and further do not perceive as much intensity (Laukka & Juslin, 2007). Lima and Castro (2011) speculate that people become less sensitive to music as they age, and reveal through their research that people generally also find music less scary in later years. Recognition and receptiveness of positive music on the other hand remains the same throughout the adult lifespan (Laukka & Juslin, 2007; Lima & Castro, 2011). These studies however leave out the emotional perception in music of children.
Cognitive and learning aspects
Emotions created from listening to music are likely to also have cognitive and learning causes. In their review of literature Juslin and Västfjäll (2008) support a cognitive perspective of influences on emotional perception from music, and propose four areas in which cognition and learning in relation to music may create emotional reactions.
Emotional contagion refers to emotional mimicking of music by listeners, similar to the way in which people empathise with other people’s emotive gestures by copying them, and ultimately experiencing the same emotion (Juslin & Västfjäll, 2008). Emotional contagion maintains that the individual cognitively recognises the emotional message of the music, then once interpreted mimics that emotion back and subsequently experiences the emotion (Gabrielsson & Juslin, 2003).
Evaluative conditioning or pairing is where a musical piece is repeatedly paired with a particular emotional event, and comes to create that same emotion upon listening to the music again. This is demonstrated by the fictional film and novel A Clockwork Orange , in which the main character is purposely conditioned to associate any kind of violent action with an extreme feeling of unease and nausea, and incidentally becomes conditioned with the same response to the music that was playing at the point of conditioning. A clip from the movie portraying this association can be seen here. Outside of this extreme example in the popular media, this association may still be present in everyday living. For example, you may reflect back on the fun you had at final year dance at primary school when you hear a song that was played there.
More controversially, according to Juslin and Västfjäll (2008), a listener may create visual imagery whilst listening to music, triggering emotional reactions not from the music but from the imagery itself. An example is listening to serene music, and visualising a beautiful landscape, generating an emotion of relaxation. Furthermore, bodily imagery may be imagined, such as a floating sensation. Visual imagery is a less accepted cognitive theory on the emotional influence of music (Kolers, 1983).
Expectancy refers to the degree to which musical progression confirms, violates or delays a listener’s expectations (Juslin & Västfjäll, 2008). Although there are strong physical consequences when music meets a listener’s expectancies, these expectations are argued to be monitored cognitively along lines of grammatical and syntax rules and learned compositional progressions by Juslin and Västfjäll (2008). They also argue that these expectations are not due to cognitive appraisal, where a piece of music may be more rewarding when it turns out better than expected.
Koelsch (2010) suggests improved knowledge of the neurological impact of music may aid the treatment of emotional disorders by using music for treatment. There are many therapeutic uses of music. Some examples include:
There still may be many other possible uses for music therapy. There are also applications that everyone can apply in their own everyday living. Music may also be useful for relaxation purposes.
Critique of current theories and research
A wide variety of research on music and emotion exists. There are endless and exciting possibilities for the exploration of this topic, and the current research presented also indicates a lot of these findings may be very beneficial; for use in everyday life, in enhancing performances or states of mind, and in treatment for mental health illnesses. There are however a few limitations to much of the current literature presented. Many studies reviewed had low samples sizes, and there are few meta-analyses in the area (Gold et al., 2004). A reason for this may be that research techniques do not involve consistent measure of emotion; these varied from self-reports, with inconsistent areas of emotional focus among them, and physiological ratings from heart rate variability and skin conductance.
There are further discrepancies and issues limiting generalisability among the presented literature. The types of music used in experimental conditions varies widely. What was considered as a pleasurable song by researchers was determined by differing factors and musical components.
Among the literature there is a lack of cross-cultural comparison of emotions perceived and experienced emotions in music, and a presumption of global validity from Western samples. Furthermore, all researchers focused their experimental studies in laboratory settings, ignoring the impact of music on affective states in everyday situations, such as its use for individual needs or in social circumstances. The terms mood and emotion were used interchangeably in the same context throughout literature, rather than addressing them as separate phenomena. It is possible that important differences between the two are not well understood in terms of musical exposure. A stronger understanding and a consistent use of descriptive measures is needed before a better idea of the effect of music on emotion can be explained confidently.
Music is primarily used to evoke and enhance emotive states. These emotive states are created by a variety of musical components, subsequent physiological reactions, and cognitive factors. Music can also be used effectively in a variety of circumstances therapeutically and to enhance certain states. Further knowledge and research is needed to better understand what components of music best amplify various emotional states. This research needs to be conducted through consistent and clear means. This chapter mainly focused on the physiological influences, further exploration into cognitive perspectives would be beneficial to the understanding of the emotional influence of music.
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