Has it ever happened to you to feel an emotion while listening to a piece of music? I’m sure it did. Music is in fact known to be a powerful mean to evoke emotions.
Emotions felt during listening to music can be assessed subjectively (by asking individuals to report the emotions they feel) or objectively (by looking at physiological / neuronal activity changes).
The use of self-report questionnaires would have higher validity if accompanied by an objective assessment, to ascertain that the individual does really feel something. In fact, it is possible that a person recognizes that a music piece conveys happiness, but s/he won’t really feel the happiness.
Using both objective and subjective methods seem to be thus the best solution. However, the current available objective methods (e.g., skin conductance, EEG, fMRI, heart rate), require to test participants in the lab with specific instruments, sometimes expensive and time consuming. Finding an alternative objective method seems therefore important.
Our Research Project
In the present research project, we are investigating behavioral methods that could be used to have an objective assessment of music felt emotions. The first attempt to do so, has made use of the mood-congruency effects, for which, when an individual is in a specific mood, the subsequent attentive and memory processes will be congruent to that specific mood. For example, if you feel sad, you are more likely to notice sad stimuli in the environment and recall sadder events to your memory.
Given the known effect of mood on subsequent cognitive processes, we asked ourselves: if music is able to make you feel an emotion, can this felt emotion affect your mood, and in turn affect your cognitive processes?
In a first study we tried to answer this question, by asking our participants to listen to music and to look at different pictures right after each music piece. The pictures could be either congruent or incongruent with respect to the emotion evoked by the music. We subsequently present a memory task, where the participants had to judge whether a picture was presented before with the music or not. We hypothesized that congruent pictures would be better memorized than incogruent ones if music is able to influence your mood. And this is what we found! [Read the whole study here]
However, one study only is not sufficient to shout “eureka”, and we are currently working on follow up studies that will shed light on this effect, its solidity, and its causes.
Talamini, F., Eller, G., Vigl, J., & Zentner, M. (2022). Musical emotions affect memory for emotional pictures. Sci Rep 12, 10636. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-15032-w
Krumhansl, C. L. (1997). An exploratory study of musical emotions and psychophysiology. Can. J. Exp. Psychol. Can. Psychol. Expérimentale 51, 336–353.
Zentner, M. & Eerola, T. (2010). Self-report measures and models. In Handbook of Music and Emotion: Theory, Research, Applications 187–221 . Oxford University Press.
Lewis, P. A. & Critchley, H. D. (2003). Mood-dependent memory. Trends Cogn. Sci. 7, 431–433.