How Music Effects Emotions On People

Music is interpreted in the brain, and the evaluation and appraisal creates emotions by physiological arousals. Different emotions are induced by the discernment of varying sound patterns. The emotivist position is being supported by results from the various research as well as my experience. However, my experience went beyond mere emotions into images produced by music. Future research could be done to better understand how this is caused
There are two positions on how music effects emotions on us. One is the cognitivist view which supports music as appearing to evoke emotions, the brain acknowledges the emotions in the music, but the listener does not experience any actual emotions (Thompson,2009). The other is the emotivist view which supports the idea of emotions being induced by music, and these emotions are ‘felt’, which is observed by physiological arousals (Storr, 1992).

Music presents emotions through the characteristics of music (such as musical contour, tempo and modality). These characteristics mould the type of emotions experienced by the listener (Kivy,1980,Thompson). One theory suggests music as a language, where various emotions are brought across by different types of musical intervals. For example, an augmented fourth expresses distress, while a major third can express happiness (Cooke, 1959)/(Thompson, 2009).

Upon hearing the sounds, the brain interprets it as music, and evaluates or appraises the music to create physiological responses (Zajonc, 1980, Thompson). The arousal of the autonomic nervous system is the response of an animal to an environmental stimulus. This includes changes in breathing rate, heart rate and blood pressure. Since this similar response may also be observed after an exercise, they do not necessarily represent an emotional response. Therefore, cognitive processing is required to link arousal with music, in order to form an emotional experience (Mandler, 1984, Thompson). It is to be noted that this point of view incorporates cognitive reasoning into the emotivist position, but do not support the cognitivist position.
Humans have an innate arousal response to unexpected occurrence of events. According to Mandler, composers have the ability to generate increases in arousal by manipulating the expectancy of the listeners, and this ability differentiates music from other stimuli (Mandler, in Thompson, 2009). The expectancy theory explains that deviation of music from the expectations of the listener creates tension/arousal, which is, as discussed above, emotion. Music preference is related to the degree of arousal. It is found that a balanced/moderate degree of incongruity is most preferred, as high incongruity makes the music confusing and unpleasant, and no incongruity makes the music predictable and boring. In other words, deviation from expectancy is directly correlated to degree of arousal, and music of moderate levels of incongruity is considered most pleasant (Berlyne, in Thompson, 2009). These perceived sound patterns (music characteristics/incongruity) of music are experienced by emotions (Meyer, 1956).

Experiments have proven emotions are induced by music. Sloboda (1991) conducted a survey on music and physical responses. The results show that many people experience emotions when they listen to music, and some of the emotions experienced include shivers, laughter, tears, racing heart, sweating (Thompson, 2009).

A blind experiment was conducted by Rickard, Nikki (2004) to investigate the presence of a difference in physiological arousal between more and less emotionally powerful music (EPM). 21 healthy participants (12 males, 9 females) with varying ages (mean of 25.5years, standard deviation of 8.48) were given music treatments of 3 experimenter-chosen music treatments, and 1 EPM of the individual’s choice. The individual’s EPM was open to any music genre, but was standardised to a limited duration of 5 to 10 minutes. The other 3 fixed music treatments were: relaxing music, arousing music and a non-musical film scene that will induce intense emotions. Each individual’s gender, personality and level of musical experience was noted, but was found that none of these factors produced any significant contribution that can change the level of physiological arousal (Rickard, 2004).

Tests were done before and after administering each music treatment, by using saliva sampling, questionnaires, event recorder and sensor electrodes attached to the body to measure various physiological responses. This was to test for hormone (cortisol) production levels, skin temperature and conductance, heart rate, chills and muscle tension (Rickard, 2004).

The results taken from the skin conductance and number of chills per minute displayed a very significant increase in arousal for the EPM. It also shows that EPM produces very high levels of physiological arousal, and less EPM produced less arousal. No meaningful conclusions could be found from the other recorded data due to the presence of high variability of results (Rickard, 2004).

Studies of Music on Heart Rate

Other studies have also found that heart rate, breathing rate, skin conductance are all affected by musical stimulus. Heart rate increases when people are exposed to music with fast tempos and rhythm, loud volume, or any other type of music that stimulates the auditory nerves; and slow tempos and rhythm, smooth melodic harmonies, depressing, sedative and relaxing music will decrease heart rate (Bartlett,1996).

Studies of Music on Skin Conductance

Producing similar results to Rickard’s experiment, 4 studies on skin conductance have produced a positive relationship between the change of skin conductivity, and enjoyment (liking) of the music (Bartlett, 1996). However, one experiment found no change in skin conductivity when the subject was indifferent to the type of musical stimulus administered (Davis, 1934).

Studies of Music on Respiration Rate

One study found an increase in breathing depth/amplitude when there is a greater liking for the music as well as an increase of the music volume (Ries, 1969). Another study tested on pre-mature infants showed an increase in respiration rate with stimulative music, and decrease with sedative music (Lorch et al, 1994).

The majority of these studies shows support for the emotivist position. Rickard’s experiment should be showing positive relationships in all tested areas. A larger group of subjects should be tested on in order to reduce the variability of results.

In relation to Rickard’s experiment and my experience, my EPM would be the ‘Fire Dance’ piece, and i stand to support the emotivist position as i had exhibited high levels of physiological arousals. Although Rickard’s experiment was unable to conclude the results of respiratory rate, other studies of respiratory rate (by Ries and Lorch et al) have shown a positive correlation with stimulative music. Although tears were not one of the arousal tested in Rickard’s experiment, Sloboda’s survey explains that it is also a type of physiological arousal from EPM.

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