Music and emotion

musicianMusic is something that a lot of people enjoy. Listening to music can make us feel relaxed or excited, depending on the type of music playing, and can affect our mood and emotions. Music may even play a part in assisting us to emotionally process difficult or distressing events.

Does Music Really Reach the Heart?

In their article ‘ Heart Rate Response To Music ‘ psychophysiologists; F. Riganello, M.Quintieri, A. Candelieri, D. Conforti and G. Dolce, demonstrate that the heart rate of individuals increases and decreases, depending upon the rhythms and timings of a musical piece.

The study used 26 healthy volunteers (the control), as well as 16 brain injured patients. They listened to four different samples of music (Boccherini, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, and Grieg) and were asked to record their emotions after each. Their heart rate was recorded after each sample. The results showed that Boccherini’s music reflected joyous emotion amongst the control group. However, the patients displayed a wider range of emotions, including depression, and a sense of boredom towards the music. The experiment showed that 61.5% of the participants’ heart rates decreased when listening to Boccherini and Grieg (suggesting that the music was found to be slower and relaxing) and that 63.5% of their heart rates increased when listening to Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky (suggesting that the music was faster and possibly more tense or exciting).

“Things ain’t what they used to be and probably never was” ~ Will Rogers

Music has been shown, in some cases, to trigger nostalgia and can cause changes to the listener’s emotions in both a positive and negative way. Frederick S. Barrett, Kevin J. Grimm, Richard W. Robins, Petr Janata (University of California Davis) and Tim Wildschut and Constantine Sedikides (University of Southampton) conducted the ‘Music-Evoked Nostalgia: Affect, Memory, and Personality’ study.

In their study 226 undergraduate students listened to ‘popular music’ and recorded how nostalgic they felt after each piece. Out of 6,720 songs played (each being 15 seconds) 1,742 were recorded as being nostalgic. This shows that roughly 25% of the songs were seen to be nostalgic.

From the above studies it seems that music can have an impact upon our lives.

But can music have an impact upon how we process our emotions?

In a chapter on processing emotions induced by music, Trainor and Schmidt proposed that in emotional processing, parts of the brain affect the rest of the body in two main ways; chemical molecules are released into the blood that can act upon certain parts of the body and nerve activity can have impacts upon areas of the brain and muscles. “Through these mechanisms, the experience of an emotion is connected with a myriad of physiological responses, from muscle contractions, to changes in breathing and heart rate, to changes blood flow in various parts of the body, to sweating.” This lead Trainor and Schmidt (2003) to conclude “Studies using both self-report and direct measures of autonomic function have now shown that listening to music does indeed produce autonomic changes associated with emotional processing.”

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