Music is a powerful tool of expressing and inducing emotions. Lima and colleagues aimed at investigating whether and how emotion recognition in music changes as a function of ageing. Their study revealed that older participants showed decreased responses to music expressing negative emotions, while their perception of happy emotions remained stable.
Emotion plays an important role in music. Even infants have been found to be capable of identifying emotions in musical excerpts (Nawrot, 2003). However, recognition of emotion in music has received little attention so far. A new study by Lima and Castro published in Cognition and Emotion examined the effects of ageing on the recognition of emotions in music. Previous studies looking at emotion recognition in other modalities have revealed that increasing age is associated with a decline in the recognition of some emotions but not others (for more information see meta-analysis by Ruffman et al. (2008)). Laukka and Juslin (2007) examined the effects of ageing on emotion recognition in music comparing young adults (around 24) and older adults (older than 65). Their results identified that older adults had more difficulty recognizing fear and sadness in both music and speech prosody, whereas no differences were observed for anger, happiness and neutrality.
The sample used by Lima et al. was of 114 healthy adults (67 female). They were aged between 17 and 84 years, and were divided into three groups with 38 participants each: younger(mean age=21.8 years), middle-aged (mean age=44.5 years) and older adults (mean age=67.2 years). Each group listened to 56 short musical excerpts that expressed happiness, sadness, fear/threat and peacefulness. Each category was consisted of 14 stimuli.
The results revealed significant age-related changes associated with specific emotions. More specifically, the authors identified a progressive decline in responsiveness to sad and scary music. No difference was found in happy music. Differences between age groups were also observed in the pattern of misclassifications for sad and peaceful music. Younger participants perceived more sadness in peaceful music, older participants perceived more peacefulness. This could be due to the structural features of peaceful and sad songs, which are both characterised by slow tempo. Future studies could further investigate this. In addition to that, Lima et al. took into account the years of musical training that the participants had. This analysis revealed a positive association between music training and the categorisation of musical emotions.
One possible explanation for the main findings of this study suggests that the decline in the recognition of particular emotions might reflect the age-related neuropsychological decline in brain regions (such as the amygdala) involved in emotion processing. Previous studies have showed that distinct brain regions are involved in the perception of different emotions (Mitterschiffthaler et al., 2007). Another possible explanation is the age-related positivity bias (Mather & Carstensen, 2005; Carstensen & Mikels, 2005). Age-related positivity bias suggests that people get older, they experience fewer negative emotions.
Future studies could attempt to identify particular brain regions involved in emotion recognition at different ages. Furthermore, since the age-related positivity bias might not be universal (older Chinese participants looked away from happy facial expressions and not from negative ones, see Fung et al., 2008), it’d be very interesting to investigate the effects of ageing on emotion recognition in music in participants from different cultures.
Lima CF, & Castro SL (2011). Emotion recognition in music changes across the adult life span. Cognition & emotion, 25 (4), 585-98 PMID: 21547762
Carstensen, L., & Mikels, J. (2005). At the Intersection of Emotion and Cognition. Aging and the Positivity Effect Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14 (3), 117-121 DOI: 10.1111/j.0963-7214.2005.00348.x
Ruffman T, Henry JD, Livingstone V, & Phillips LH (2008). A meta-analytic review of emotion recognition and aging: implications for neuropsychological models of aging. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews, 32 (4), 863-81 PMID: 18276008
Laukka, P., & Juslin, P. (2007). Similar patterns of age-related differences in emotion recognition from speech and music Motivation and Emotion, 31 (3), 182-191 DOI: 10.1007/s11031-007-9063-z
Mather M, & Carstensen LL (2005). Aging and motivated cognition: the positivity effect in attention and memory. Trends in cognitive sciences, 9 (10), 496-502 PMID: 16154382
Mitterschiffthaler, M., Fu, C., Dalton, J., Andrew, C., & Williams, S. (2007). A functional MRI study of happy and sad affective states induced by classical music Human Brain Mapping, 28 (11), 1150-1162 DOI: 10.1002/hbm.20337
Nawrot, E. (2003). The Perception of Emotional Expression in Music: Evidence from Infants, Children and Adults Psychology of Music, 31 (1), 75-92 DOI: 10.1177/0305735603031001325
Fung HH, Lu AY, Goren D, Isaacowitz DM, Wadlinger HA, & Wilson HR (2008). Age-related positivity enhancement is not universal: older Chinese look away from positive stimuli. Psychology and aging, 23 (2), 440-6 PMID: 18573017
Previous studies have found that the processing of faces and voices is negatively biased in major depression. Naranjo and colleagues were the first to investigate possible effects of major depression on the recognition of emotion in music. According to the authors:
as music is not directly linked to interpersonal communication, comparing a musical task with a facial and a vocal one will allow us to determine whether the impaired processing of emotional stimuli in depression is limited to interpersonal contexts
23 depressed patients and 23 matched healthy controls participated in this study. Their affective information processing was assessed through musical, vocal and facial emotion recognition tasks. Depressed participants were found to be impaired in all tasks. More specifically:
Depressed participants were less accurate in their recognition of peaceful and happy musical excerpts, for neutral and surprised voices and fearful, neutral and angry faces (whether displayed briefly or for a longer period). The depressed participants rated the intensity of the emotion higher than the control group for sad and frightening musical excerpts, and for the negative emotions of sadness, anger and fear in vocal and facial stimuli. However the depressed participants rated the peaceful musical excerpts less intense than the control group. Neutral voices and faces were frequently interpreted by depressed participants as expressing a negative emotion
These results show that there is a general emotional processing impairment in depressed participants. However, it’s hard to say that this impairment is due to the disorder itself. It could possibly be attributed to the anti-depressant medication all the participants were taking – previous research on this topic suggests that blunting of emotion is one of the effects of medication in healthy participants (Fu et al., 2004).
Naranjo, C., Kornreich, C., Campanella, S., Noel, X., Vandriette, Y., Gillain, B., de Longueville, X., Delatte, B., Verbanck, P., & Constant, E. (2010). Major depression is associated with impaired processing of emotion in music as well as in facial and vocal stimuli Journal of Affective Disorders : 10.1016/j.jad.2010.06.039
(pic from here)
Many studies have showed that that media with violent or aggressive content (such as violent videogames) may increase aggressive behaviour and thoughts (Bushman & Huesmann, 2006). Moreover, music and lyrics can influence people’s behaviour; prosocial songs were found to be associated with a significant increase in tipping behaviour (Jacob, Guéguen & Boulbry, 2010), male customers exposed to romantic songs spent more money than when no music was played or when non-romantic pop music was played (Jacob, Guéguen, Boulbry & Selmi, 2009).
Guéguen, Jacob and Lamy (2010) investigated if exposure to romantic songs could have an effect on behaviour. In particular, they tested if background romantic music would influence the dating behaviour of young single female participants. The stimuli used were a romantic song ‘Je l’aime à mourir’ by the french songwriter Francis Cabrel (was selected after a pilot study) and the neutral song was ‘L’heure du
thé’ by Vincent Delerm.
183 single female participants were exposed to romantic lyrics or to neutral ones while waiting for the experiment to start. Five minutes later, the participant interacted with a young male confederate in a marketing survey. During a break, the male confederate asked the participant for her phone number
In the romantic song lyrics condition 52.2% (23/44) complied with the confederate’s request , compared to 27.9% (12/43) in the neutral song lyrics condition. The difference was found significant (χ2(1, N = 83) = 5.37, p = .02, r = .24).
According to the authors these results support the General Learning Model (GLM), which was initially proposed by Buckley and Anderson (2006) to explain the influence of aggressive media (i.e. videogames) on behaviour, but was updated recently by Greitemeyer (2009) to include media exposure in general. The GLM proposes that exposure to media affects the internal states of individuals (aggressive media increase aggressive behaviour/thoughts, prosocial media promote prosocial behaviour/thoughts).
Guéguen, Jacob and Lamy (2010) suggest that the results of this particular experiment could be explain by music’s ability to induce positive affect (Lenton & Martin, 1991)
and that positive affect is related with receptivity in a courtship request (Guéguen, 2008). Thus, it is possible that the romantic song lyrics activated positive affect
which, in turn, made the participant more receptive to a request for a date. It’s also
possible that the romantic song lyrics acted as a prime that, in turn, led to the display
of behaviour associated with this prime (Bargh, Chen & Burrows, 1996).
Bargh, J. A., Chen, M., & Burrows, L. (1996). Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effect of trait construct and stereotype activation on action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71(2), 230–244.
Buckley, K. E., & Anderson, C. A. (2006). A theoretical model of the effects and consequences of playing video games. In P. Vorderer and J. Bryant (Eds.), Playing video games: Motives, responses, and consequences (pp. 363–378). Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Bushman, Brad J., & Huesmann, L. R. (2006). Short-term and Long-term Effects of Violent Media on Aggression in Children and Adults. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 160, 348-352.
Greitemeyer, T. (2009). Effects of songs with prosocial lyrics on prosocial thoughts, affect, and behavior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 186–190.
Jacob, C., Guéguen, N., and Boulbry, G. (2010). Effects of songs with prosocial lyrics on tipping behavior in a restaurant. International Journal of Hospitality Management.
Jacob, C., Guéguen, N., Boulbry, G., & Selmi, S. (2009). ‘Love is in the air’: Congruency between background music and goods in a flower shop. International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research, 19, 75–79.
Lenton, S. R. & Martin, P. R. (1991). The contribution of music vs. instructions in the musical mood induction procedure. Behavioral Research Therapy, 29, 623–625.
Gueguen, N., Jacob, C., & Lamy, L. (2010). ‘Love is in the air’: Effects of songs with romantic lyrics on compliance with a courtship request Psychology of Music, 38 (3), 303-307 : http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0305735609360428
Anderson et al. (2007) report a case of a 14 month boy (PF1) who sustained damage to his right inferior dorsolateral prefrontal cortex due to resection of a vascular malformation on day 3 of life. After a successful surgery he exhibit normal behaviour and reached developmental milestones at a normal rate. Also, his performance on various clinical tests was normal, as well as his social and communication skills as rated by his mother. Compared to a sample of healthy controls PF1 was impaired significantly in the regulation of emotion and engagement of attention, specifically in unstructured conditions.
In particular, Anderson et al. (2007) report that:
markedly high positive affectivity and low restraint
relative to his peers. This was particularly evident
in his intense and positive affective expressions
during free-flowing interactions, his unrestrained
approach of desirable but prohibited stimuli, and to
a lesser extent in his mildly atypical levels of anger
and resistance when physically restrained. Faced
with problem-solving tasks, when most of his peers
displayed affectively neutral expressions and
focused on finding the solutions, PF1 initially
responded with strong and under-regulated positive
emotion that interfered with attentional engagement
on the task at hand.
According to the writers the results of the study provide useful information about the impact that early damage in the prefrontal cortex may have on emotional and cognitive behaviour. I’m looking forward to their future reports on this particular case as the boy grows up.
Anderson SW, Aksan N, Kochanska G, Damasio H, Wisnowski J, & Afifi A (2007). The earliest behavioral expression of focal damage to human prefrontal cortex. Cortex; a journal devoted to the study of the nervous system and behavior, 43 (6), 806-16 PMID: 17710831