The Psychology of Music


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  • Music and Emotions

    The most difficult problem in answering the question of how music creates emotions is likely to be the fact that assignments of musical elements and emotions can never be defined clearly. The solution of this problem is the Theory of Musical Equilibration. It says that music can't convey any emotion at all, but merely volitional processes, the music listener identifies with. Then in the process of identifying the volitional processes are colored with emotions. The same happens when we watch an exciting film and identify with the volitional processes of our favorite figures. Here, too, just the process of identification generates emotions.

    An example: If you perceive a major chord, you normally identify with the will 'Yes, I want to...'. If you perceive a minor chord, you identify normally with the will 'I don't want any more...'. If you play the minor chord softly, you connect the will 'I don't want any more...' with a feeling of sadness. If you play the minor chord loudly, you connect the same will with a feeling of rage. You distinguish in the same way as you would distinguish, if someone would say the words 'I don't want anymore...' the first time softly and the second time loudly.
    Because this detour of emotions via volitional processes was not detected, also all music psychological and neurological experiments, to answer the question of the origin of the emotions in the music, failed.

    But how music can convey volitional processes? These volitional processes have something to do with the phenomena which early music theorists called 'lead', 'leading tone' or 'striving effects'. If we reverse this musical phenomena in imagination into its opposite (not the sound wants to change - but the listener identifies with a will not to change the sound) we have found the contents of will, the music listener identifies with. In practice, everything becomes a bit more complicated, so that even more sophisticated volitional processes can be represented musically.

    Further information is available via the free download of the e-book 'Music and Emotion - Research on the Theory of Musical Equilibration:

    or on the online journal EUNOMIOS:

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    Bernd Willimek
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The Psychology of Music

  1. 2. <ul><li>The PsychFutures Research Maps are a series of digests on the most popular Psychology related topics, whereby linking to podcasts, videos, journal publications, websites and blogs; ideal if you’re looking for inspiration to kick-start your dissertations and research projects. </li></ul><ul><li>The topics are varied, including Love, Sport and Torture. To view the full list and download the other Research Maps click here or go to: /page/research </li></ul>Providing One-Stop Summaries and Directions For Your Research
  2. 3. Introduction <ul><li>The international, modern field of music psychology is gradually exploring many issues that surround the question of why humans spend large amounts of time, money and effort on musical activities. The results of research on music psychology have, and continue to have, direct implications for matters of general concern; human identity, values, nature and quality of life. </li></ul>
  3. 4. Introduction <ul><li>Research in the psychology of music uses psychological methods and theories to interpret and understand musical sounds, behaviours and the effects music can have. The subject is inter-disciplinary, and makes use of a range of approaches – empirical, theoretical, discursive and critical. The subject ranges from understanding how music is picked up and understood by the mind (perception and cognition), through the acquisition of musical expertise (development and education), to uses of music in the world (social psychology). </li></ul><ul><li>Music psychology questions are often difficult to answer. It is therefore necessary to subject research literature to quality control procedures. As with many other scholarly disciplines, these include anonymous expert peer review, which is a feature of all leading music-psychological journals, conferences and societies. </li></ul>
  4. 5. Introduction <ul><li>Music psychologists research all types of musical behaviour by applying methods and information from all aspects of psychology. Topics of study include: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>everyday music listening (while eating, shopping, reading, driving etc) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>musical gatherings and habits (cultural, social, religious, sporting, festive etc) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>the skills and processes involved in learning a musical instrument or singing in a choir </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>musical behaviour, e.g. dancing and responding emotionally to music </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>development of musical abilities and behaviours throughout a lifetime </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>music’s role in forming group and personal identities </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>preferences; why we like some music genres and not others …and so on. </li></ul></ul>
  5. 6. Research <ul><li>Music can have a vast range of implications it seems. </li></ul><ul><li>David Merrill, a student, set up an experiment to see how music would affect the ability of mice to learn new skills. One group of mice listened to classical music 24 hours a day and another group listened to heavy metal music. The mice were then timed as they ran through mazes to determine whether the music affected their speed of learning. However, the first experiment unfortunately had to be cut short because the mice listening to heavy metal all killed each other . </li></ul><ul><li>In another experiment, mice that listened to Mozart for 10 hours a day showed dramatic improvements in their abilities to solve the maze, whereas the heavy metal mice actually became worse than they had been at the beginning of the experiment. </li></ul>
  6. 7. Research <ul><li>Research has also shown that children who took keyboard or singing lessons often achieved higher test scores , according to the Association for Psychological Science. </li></ul><ul><li>Another study found that boys between age 6 and 15 who took music lessons scored higher on verbal memory tests than a control group who had not had musical training. </li></ul>
  7. 8. Research <ul><li>It has been found that patients undergoing operations, who had listened to piano, harp, synthesizer, orchestra or slow jazz, experienced less post-surgical pain than those who had not. </li></ul><ul><li>Music therapy can be particularly helpful for autistic students who find interacting with teachers and classmates difficult and become agitated by noisy and changeable environments. Music can often help autistic children to remain calm under stress and to socialise more effectively. </li></ul>
  8. 9. Research <ul><li>In a study conducted with university students, participants listened to seven songs with violent lyrics, and another control group listened to seven songs without violent lyrics by the same artists. Afterwards, when the participants were asked to classify words as violent or nonviolent, the participants who had listened to violent lyrics were more likely to describe words such as “rock” and “stick” as aggressive. </li></ul><ul><li>The American Psychological Society also published a report stating that research has proved a link between youth violence and violent media, including music. </li></ul>
  9. 10. Research <ul><li>James Gundlach, a sociology professor, somewhat strangely found that the highest rates of suicide were among people who listen to country music - although he also noted that the suicide link was only related to older country music , which Gundlach believes is not as upbeat as today’s. </li></ul><ul><li>Dorothy Retallack conducted experiments to determine the effect of music on plants, described in her 1973 book The Sound of Music and Plants . Retallack played rock music such as Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Vanilla Fudge to one group of plants and jazz music to another. After two weeks, the jazz plants were healthy and bent toward the radio . The plants with rock music grew very tall and droopy, had faded blooms and had almost died within 16 days. </li></ul>
  10. 11. Research <ul><li>Retallack experimented with other types of music, including country, to which the plants showed no reaction, and classical music, which caused the plants to bend away from the radio speakers - although the plants reacted positively to Bach and North Indian sitar and tabla music. </li></ul><ul><li>Retallack has been criticized for using unscientific methods in her experiments, although others have conducted similar experiments and claimed to have found similar results. </li></ul><ul><li>Most of the studies to date concerning music have used small sample sizes and some have not controlled for confounding variables, so although the research is fascinating, more research is needed to find conclusive evidence. </li></ul>
  11. 12. Useful Journals <ul><li>Music Perception </li></ul><ul><li>Emotion </li></ul><ul><li>The Arts in Psychotherapy </li></ul><ul><li>Psychology of Music </li></ul><ul><li>Journal of New Music Research </li></ul>
  12. 13. Useful Books <ul><li>Music Psychology books by MIT Press </li></ul><ul><li>Music, Thought and Feeling: Understanding the Psychology of Music by William Forde Thompson </li></ul><ul><li>Oxford Handbook of Music Psychology by Susan Hallam, Ian Cross and Michael Thaut </li></ul>
  13. 14. Experts <ul><li>Helga de la Motte-Haber (article in German) - a musicologist and Chair of Systematic Musicology. </li></ul><ul><li>Carol L.Krumhansl - a Psychology Professor at the University of Cornell. </li></ul><ul><li>John A.Sloboda - Emeritus Professor at Keele University, a member of the School of Psychology and former Director of its Unit for the Study of Musical Skill and Development. </li></ul>
  14. 15. Videos/ Audio <ul><li>Music and Psychology Click here to watch </li></ul><ul><li>Music Psychology - Ben Poz's Health 202 Video on how Music can alter emotion Click here to watch </li></ul><ul><li>The PsychFiles, Episode 101: The Psychology of Music: The Role of Expectations and Minor Chords . Click here to listen </li></ul>
  15. 16. Blogs <ul><li>Exploring-Psychology – Music Psychology </li></ul><ul><li>Simoleon Sense – Why Music Moves Us, The Psychology of Music </li></ul><ul><li>Francisco Pais Jazz – Child Psychology and Music </li></ul>
  16. 17. Articles on the Web <ul><li>Science Daily - Violent Music Lyrics Increase Aggressive Thoughts And Feelings, According To New Study; Even Humorous Violent Songs Increase Hostile Feelings </li></ul><ul><li>Suite - The Psychology of Music, Effects on Behavior , Intelligence, Learning, Pain and Health </li></ul><ul><li>Improbable Research - Country music-suicide study tops IgNobel awards </li></ul><ul><li>Science Daily - Relaxation And Music Significantly Reduce Patients' Postoperative Pain </li></ul><ul><li>Autism Research Institute - Music Therapy and Language for the Autistic Child </li></ul>