Emotions and Music



Levitin (2006) This is you Brain on Music

Chapter 8 - My favorite things: Why do we like the music we like?

Lamont reports that infants show recognition and preference for songs heard pre-natally.
Testing conditioned head turning, testing classical, top 40, reggae and world beat music at age 1.

Generally prefer faster up-beat music

Mozart effect - impact on spatial and mathematical reasoning?
Schellenberg shows these inconclusive results may be due to bad research design
(see development)

Musicians have larger anterior corpus collosum and more grey matter than non-musicians

By age 2 seem to have preference for music from own culture (see also language); simple songs

Teen years is when musical preferences are largely set (along with identity and social bonding).

Alzheimer's patients remember music from when they were 14 years old, or early adulthood.


Schafer & Sedlmeier (2010)
What makes us like music? Determinants of music preference.


Through an online survey they found that cognitive function  (i.e. communication & self-reflection) and physiological arousal elicited by the music were most important factors in liking.



Sacks - Musicophilia

Part IV.     Emotion, Identity and Music

    23. Musical Dreams
    24. Seduction and Indifference
    25. Music and Depression
    26. Music & Emotion (Harry S.)
    27. Music & Temporal Lobes
    28. Hypermusical Species: William's Syndrome
    29. Dementia and Music Therapy



Peretz & Zatorre (2009)

Chapter 11 - The Neural processing of Complex sounds.
                    Griffiths (p. 168)

Chapter 20 - Processing emotions induced by music.
                    Trainer & Schmidt (p. 310).


Emotional processing has deep evolutionary history and
is involved in self-regulation and social approach or withdrawal

Emotional experience involves automatic sub-cortical and cortical systems

Caregivers use music to communicate emotionally with infants prior to their speech development

Sadness conveyed through quiet, slow, legato articulation with large deviations for metrical timing

Happiness or joy conveyed through high-pitched, fast, staccato features with small deviations from musical timing

Langer suggests that the rise and fall of tension and uncertainty and resolve in music leads to emotions.
- He holds the view that music does not express emotion but we understand music similarly as we understand emotions.

Further that there is lateralization of valence where Left pre-frontal cortex processes positive emotions, while the Right pre-frontal cortex processes negative emotions.

Damasio, however holds that there are emotion tags all experiences and hence music evokes specific emotions.

This occurs through ANS activity and in amygdala and other areas of the limbic system

Correlating physiological and self-reports of music and emotion shows ANS activation to be correct.

Also found that intensity and valence vary along with this activation and that consonance and dissonance produce positive and negative emotions.


Valence Low Intensity High Intensity  
Positive Serenity Happiness Consonance
Negative Sadness Agitation Dissonance


The experience of "the Chills " appears to coincide with left ventral striatum, dorsomedial midbrain, and paralimbic areas as are also found with experiences of euphoria, pleasant emotions and cocaine.

Singing to infant as a form of state regulation (as they need to learn this ability)

4 -6 year olds can discriminate happy, sad, angry and fearful music



Zentner, Grandjean & Scherer (2008)
Emotions evoked by the the sound of music: Characterization, classification, and measurement.


A field study was conducted at a music festival where it was found that
emotions varied with musical genre and type of response felt vs perceived.

Classification of emotion terms (descriptors) was also done where a list of 28
was derived from a broad selection of 176 'emotion' terms.

Three classes of emotions were found:

1) emotions as perceived by the music more common than those felt (e.g., fear, sadness, anger -irritation).

2) emotions as induced by music (felt):  positive emotions felt more than negative.

Those positive emotions were often mixed and somewhat dependening on style (classical and Jazz listeners for amazement and peacefulness).

3) emotions as experienced in non-musical contexts
    (e.g., guilty, shameful, contemptuous, disgusted, embarrassed and jealous).

See figure 1 and Table 2

The relationships and grouping through factor analysis are shown in Figure 2



Hunter, Schellenberg & Schimmack (2010) Feelings and Perceptions of Happiness and Sadness induced by Music: Similarities, differences, and mixed emotions.

Perceptions and emotional experience were considered with musical stimuli that varied in tempo and scales type (major vs minor).

The results indicated that perception and feeling ratings were related, but perception more so to the music than the feelings.

Happiness was perceived and experienced by fast-tempo major key stimuli while sadness by slow-tempo minor key stimuli.

Figure 1 reveals these findings, while figure 2 shows mixed responses



Hailstone, Omar, Henley, Frost, Kenward, & Warren (2009)
It's not what you play, it's how you play it: Timbre affects perception of emotion in music.

Sound (instrument) identity appears to play an important role in emotion perception and feeling in music.

40 novel melodies were played representing one of four emotions (happiness, sadness, fear, or anger) on four different instruments (piano, violin, trumpet and  synthesizer).

Two cohort groups were examined younger (18-30 years) and older (58-75 years) and asked to make emotional judgments.

A clear interaction between instrument and emotional tone of music was found.

Table 1 shows the structural properties of the music and emotion perceptions

Figure 1 shows samples of the musical melodies

Figure 2 shows the relationship between emotions, instruments and age of listeners.

 Tonks (2021) Music of Home - Music that reminds of home and emotionas associated with it.