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Music Listening, Emotion and Reward Systems

31/10/2009 5 comments

brain_musicMusic is an important part of most people’s lives. Recently, many studies are focused on music and especially its relationship with emotion and the reward system. Here are a few interesting ones:

1.Salimpoor et al (2009), found that the rewarding aspects of music listening are related to the degree of emotional arousal. Here’s the abstract from their interesting study:

Background: Listening to music is amongst the most rewarding experiences for humans. Music has no functional
resemblance to other rewarding stimuli, and has no demonstrated biological value, yet individuals continue listening to
music for pleasure. It has been suggested that the pleasurable aspects of music listening are related to a change in
emotional arousal, although this link has not been directly investigated. In this study, using methods of high temporal
sensitivity we investigated whether there is a systematic relationship between dynamic increases in pleasure states and
physiological indicators of emotional arousal, including changes in heart rate, respiration, electrodermal activity, body
temperature, and blood volume pulse.

Methodology: Twenty-six participants listened to self-selected intensely pleasurable music and ‘‘neutral’’ music that was
individually selected for them based on low pleasure ratings they provided on other participants’ music. The ‘‘chills’’
phenomenon was used to index intensely pleasurable responses to music. During music listening, continuous real-time
recordings of subjective pleasure states and simultaneous recordings of sympathetic nervous system activity, an objective
measure of emotional arousal, were obtained.

Principal Findings: Results revealed a strong positive correlation between ratings of pleasure and emotional arousal.
Importantly, a dissociation was revealed as individuals who did not experience pleasure also showed no significant increases
in emotional arousal.

Conclusions/Significance: These results have broader implications by demonstrating that strongly felt emotions could be
rewarding in themselves in the absence of a physically tangible reward or a specific functional goal.”

2. Activation in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion was also found in an earlier study by Blood & Zatorre (2001). Using PET they found cerebral blood flow increases and decreases in brain regions that are thought to be involved in reward/motivation, emotion, and arousal such as the ventral striatum, midbrain, amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex, and ventral medial prefrontal cortex. These structures are known from previous studies to be active in response to other euphoria-inducing stimuli, such as food, sex, and drugs of abuse.

3. Menon & Levitin (2005) also found that:

“listening to music strongly modulates activity in a network of mesolimbic structures involved in reward processing including the nucleus accumbens (NAc) and the ventral tegmental area (VTA), as well as the hypothalamus and insula, which are thought to be involved in regulating autonomic and physiological responses to rewarding and emotional stimuli.”

4. For more information on the neural correlates of music perception, you can read the reviews by Limb (2006) and Koelsch (2006).

(picture: part of Guilherme Marconi’s collection – My Schizophrenic Brain)

Music and the Mind

One of my favourite music & mind speeches. Dr. Aniruddh D. Patel of the Neurosciences Institute, discusses what music can teach us about the brain, and what brain science, in turn, can reveal about music.

You can find many of his interesting papers here.

These are the sad songs… A few words on music and emotion

20/07/2009 3 comments

psycho_blood-431Music has the power to induce specific emotions to the listener. Just of think of its use on movies. Try to imagine how  the classic shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” would be without music or with a different tune. If the wrong song had been used, it could have easily ruined the scene (the famous tune was composed by Bernard Herrmann btw).

Even back in ancient Greece philosophers like Aristotle and Plato had realised that music can affect human emotion. According to them, certain structural factors determine whether a song evokes unpleasant, pleasant or other moods to the listener.

Nowadays, music is one of the most hyped subjects in psychology and cognitive neuroscience. It seems that ancient Greeks were half right. Scherer & Zentner in their 2001 study suggested that the relationship between music and emotion is determined by 4 factors:  the structural features, the performance features, the listener features, and the contextual features.

In this post I’m going to talk about the structural features and ignore the other three factors. Most studies suggest that the emotional valence of music depends mostly on the mode (major/minor) and the tempo (slow/fast) of the tune. Mode refers to the specific subset of pitches used to write a given musical excerpt and tempo to the number of beats per minute in a song. Major mode and fast tempo are associated with “happy” songs and minor mode and slow tempo with “sad” songs. Other emotions such as fear and anger are less easily studied, but can be also recognised by the listeners. These seem to be induced by other features apart from mode and tempo. Fear excerpts seem to have fast tempo, dissonant harmonies and vast variations of dynamics and pitch.

Interestingly, it seems that children use the same properties as adults (i.e. tempo and mode) in determining whether music sounds “happy” or “sad”. Dalla Bella, Peretz, Rousseau & Gosselin showed that children are capable of judging the emotional content of music from the age of 5 using tempo as the sole determinant. Older children (from 6 to 8 years old) use mode as well as tempo, just like adults. Recent studies show that even newborn babies have the ability to discriminate between happy and sad songs. These findings suggest that infants are born with the ability to perceive music. However, it’s really hard to tell if this ability is really innate or learned during the last months of pregnancy, during which the infant can perceive certain stimuli from the external environment.

More info:

Scherer, K., R. & Zentner, M., R. (2001). Emotional Effects of Music: Production Rules.in P. N. Juslin & J. A. Sloboda (ed.). Music and emotion: theory and research. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 362-393.

Khalfa, S., Roy, M., Rainville, P., Dalla Bella, S. & Peretz, I. (2008). Role of tempo entrainment in psychophysiological differentiation of happy and sad music?.  International Journal of Psychophysiology, 68, 17–26

Dalla Bella, S., Peretz, I., Rousseau, L. & Gosselin, N. (2001) A developmental study of the affective value of tempo and mode in music. Cognition, vol. 80, pp. B1-B10

Sugimoto, T. & Hashiya, K. , 2006-06-19 “The Recognition of Affective Values of the Music in Infants: Infants Motoric Response to Music” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the XVth Biennial International Conference on Infant Studies, Westin Miyako, Kyoto, Japan

Krumhansl, C., L. (1997). An Exploratory Study of Musical Emotions andPsychophysiology. Can. J. Psychol. 51 (4), 336–352.

Peretz, I., Gagnon, L. & Bouchard, B. (1998) Music and emotion: perceptual determinants, immediacy and isolation after brain damage. Cognition, vol. 68, pp. 111-141

Categories: music psychology
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