Music and Emotion

Emotions are important factors that strongly influence everyday life decisions. Research into this field became the topic of an increasing number of studies during the last decade. The emotional impact of music was found to be the most important reason for listening to music (Panksepp, 1995). This suggests that music can be used as an ideal stimulus for research concerned with emotional reactions. Emotions are classically defined to consist of three components (Scherer, 2004): a subjective feeling component, a physiological response, and a behavioural or motor response. For every single component there are several methodological approaches. However, the distinct relations between theses components are still unclear, especially over a period of time. Since music develops over time, and the emotional reactions of the listener can be expected to change during the course of a piece as well, continuous measurements of emotional components while one is listening to music offer some exciting opportunities for the understanding of emotion.
The Institute’s current project concerned with emotional reactions to music is being conducted in collaboration with Professor Reinhard Kopiez from the Institute for Research in Music Education. Furthermore, it is part of the Interdisciplinary Research Group Acoustical Communication of Affects in Non-Human Mammals and Humans supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG).
In order to combine available methods of continuous measurement of physiology and motor responses, Nagel et al. (in press) developed the EMuJoy software that allows the subject’s continuous self report of feelings in a two-dimensional emotional space while listening to music. Additionally, the participants were asked to report “chills,” or strong emotion-related bodily reactions, such as goose bumps or “shivers down the spine.” An exploratory pilot study combining continuous measurements of all three emotional components and chills brought interesting new information about general emotional reactions to music.
1. The emotional components seem to be independent from each other. Changes in feelings are reported in accordance to physiological arousal in response to events such as the entry of a voice or the beginning of a new part. However, participants also reported changes in their feelings without showing any measurable physiological reaction and vice versa. Mimic responses (facial muscle EMGs) were rare and not synchronized with feelings and physiological responses.
2. Chills, as a paradigm for strong emotional responses to music, proved to be dependent on familiarity with a musical style and on personality factors, such as “reward dependence” or “sensation seeking.” Chills were also found to be related to changes in loudness; however, no distinct acoustical pattern could be identified that induces chills in a reflex-like way. Grewe et al. (2005; in press) presented evidence that chills are based on a cognitive evaluation of the musical stimulus or, in other words, that chills are bodily reactions based on (subjective) feelings.
Several follow-up studies were designed and have been recently performed in order to allow a more detailed insight into the relation of emotional components and chills as well as into the influence of social situations on emotional responses. In the future, further methods, such as electro encephalography (EEG), will be used to reveal the cognitive processing of emotion.


Last modified: 2015-12-09

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