How Does Music Affect Us Essay Writers

Music is a form of art which has accompanied humankind since the origins of our species. Starting from the early primitive instruments used by our cave-dwelling ancestors, and ending up with modern synthesizers and computer programs that create new musical sounds, human beings have constantly tried to surround themselves with music. It gradually became more complex, as well as the instruments on which it was performed. Research has shown that music can positively impact plants and animals, and scientists discovered that it can also provide beneficial effects to human health; today, music therapy is a popular and effective way of treating psychological disorders. So, what are the positive effects of music on the human brain and human health?

Music can decrease the risks of heart attack and stroke. Music has been found to lower blood pressure; changes in the “autonomic” nervous system, such as breathing and heart rate can also be altered by music (Tryon Daily Bulletin). This helps to create a so-called “relaxation response,” which counteracts the damaging effects of chronic stress. Music contributes to the release of endorphins, which are protein molecules produced by the nervous system that works with sedative receptors in the brain. They improve mood, boost the immune system, reduce eating disorder symptoms, and help fight cancer. In this respect, music has powerful positive effects on the functioning of the human body.

Music also affects the way our brain functions. It is reported that easy-listening and classical music improves the duration and intensity of concentration in all age groups and ability levels (eMed Expert). At the same time, another research study has shown that music with a strong beat stimulates brain waves to resonate with them. In other words, the faster the beat is, the sharper concentration becomes, and thinking becomes more alert (Tryon Daily Bulletin). Listening to music also helps people recall information; certain types of music can serve as strong “keys,” supposedly forming a strong connection between emotions they evoke and the information, which can be recalled much easier during playing back the song which was being played during the process of learning (eMed Expert).

Music also performs several social functions, which are usually omitted when talking about its effects. Music today is an extremely popular and available form of entertainment; people of all ages attend concerts of their favorite bands and singers, and share the same positive emotions there. However, they can share the same emotions in everyday life; simply talking about music, even if the interlocutors have just met and have different preferences, can help them establish communication faster and easier. Youth are often grouped in fan-clubs and subcultures, which also helps young people to socialize.

Music is one of the most ancient forms of art, and one of the most beneficial for human beings as well. Music deals powerful, positive effects on the human body, reducing risks of heart diseases, cancers, enhancing the immune system, and reducing chronic stress. It also helps our brain function better by increasing its cognitive abilities, attention, memory, and concentration. In addition, music is a factor of socialization and facilitates establishing communication with unfamiliar people and socialization.

References

“Music Offers Positive Health Effects.” The Tryon Daily Bulletin. N.p., 28 Mar. 2013. Web. 04 July 2013. <http://www.tryondailybulletin.com/2013/03/28/music-offers-positive-health-effects/>.

“How Music Affects Us and Promotes Health.” EMed Expert. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 July 2013. <http://www.emedexpert.com/tips/music.shtml>.

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A first and very powerful source of perceived emotion in music reflects iconic coding. Juslin (1995, 1997, 1998, 2001) has repeatedly theorized that the code used in emotional expression in music performance is based on innate and universal “affect programs” for vocal expression of emotions. According to this “functionalist” framework—partly inspired by Spencer (1857)—the origin of iconically-coded expressions is to be sought in involuntary and emotion-specific physiological changes associated with emotional reactions, which strongly influence different aspects of voice production (for a review of the relationships among emotion, physiology and voice, see Juslin and Scherer, 2005). This notion was later named “Spencer's law” by Juslin and Laukka (2003). Because of its evolutionary origin, this is the type of coding that will have the most uniform impact on musical expression. I will show that iconically-coded expressions are intimately related to basic emotions.

The concept of basic emotions

The term basic or discrete emotions occurs frequently in the music psychology field today, typically to refer to certain emotions (happiness, sadness, anger, and fear), but without any deeper consideration of the theoretical basis of the concept. This is unfortunate, as it serves to obscure many of the issues under consideration.

First of all, it is quite possible to talk about emotions like sadness, surprise, anger, happiness, interest, and fear without adopting a basic-emotions perspective. Thus, simply adopting these emotions does not itself make one a “basic-emotion theorist.” (Otherwise, even Scherer would be a “basic-emotion theorist” because most of his studies have focused on these emotions; e.g., Scherer and Oshinsky, 1977; Banse and Scherer, 1996; Scherer et al., 2001). Hence, regardless of one's theoretical position, sadness, happiness, anger, surprise, and fear are obvious examples of emotions from “everyday life.” Therefore, my recommendation is to employ the term “basic emotion” only when one is embracing the theoretical basis of this concept, and to use the term “everyday emotions” when one is simply referring to emotions like happiness, anger, surprise, fear, and sadness, without wanting to commit to the underlying theory of basic emotions.

The concept of basic emotions refers to the idea that there is a limited number of innate and universal emotion categories, which are more biologically fundamental than others (Tomkins, 1962; Izard, 1977; Ekman, 1992; Oatley, 1992; Plutchik, 1994; Power and Dalgleish, 1997). Each basic emotion may be defined functionally in terms of a key appraisal of goal-relevant situations that have occurred frequently during evolution (e.g., Oatley, 1992). The situations include cooperation, conflict, separation, danger, reproduction, and caring. Support for basic emotions comes from a wide range of sources that include:

  • Phylogenetic continuity of basic emotions (Plutchik, 1980)

  • Early development of proposed basic emotions (Harris, 1989)

  • Distinct brain substrates associated with basic emotions (Murphy et al., 2003)

  • Distinct patterns of psychophysiological changes (Ekman et al., 1983)

  • Cross-cultural accuracy in facial and vocal expression (Elfenbein and Ambady, 2002)

  • Categorical perception of facial expressions of basic emotions (Etcoff and Magee, 1992)

  • Clusters matching basic emotions in similarity ratings of affect terms (Shaver et al., 1987)

  • Reduced reaction times in lexical-decision-tasks when priming words are taken from the same basic emotion category (Conway and Bekerian, 1987)

Not all of these sources of evidence are equally strong: thus, for example, the extent to which psychophysiological measures can distinguish among basic emotions is controversial, though recent multivariate approaches to emotion classification are promising (e.g., Kragel and LaBar, 2013). Yet, the most impressive evidence of basic emotions comes from studies of emotional communication (Juslin and Laukka, 2003).

Basic emotions in vocal and musical communication

To answer the question of which emotion categories we have, we first need to ask ourselves why we have categories at all; and, in particular, why we have emotion categories. Here, an ecological perspective on emotion could be helpful. Categories enable us to make important inferences (Corter and Gluck, 1992). For example, the ability to predict the probable behavior of another individual is quite useful: it allows the judge to adjust his or her behavior in order to affect the outcome of the interaction. Consequently I have argued elsewhere (Juslin, 1998) that when it comes to communication of emotion, the basic emotion categories represent the optimal compromise between two opposing goals of a perceiver: the desire to have the most informative categorization possible and the desire to have the categories be as discriminable as possible (Ross and Spalding, 1994). To be useful as guides to action, emotional expressions are typically decoded in terms of a few emotion categories related to important life problems such as danger (fear), competition (anger), loss (sadness), social cooperation (happiness), or caregiving (love) (Juslin, 2001).

In support, there is cross-cultural accuracy in decoding of basic emotions in vocal expression even in so-called traditional societies without any exposure to media (Bryan and Barrett, 2008). Critics of the basic-emotion approach in studies of vocal expression (Bachorowski, 1999) like to point out that it has been difficult to find distinct voice-profiles for basic emotions. Indeed, although basic emotions do present different acoustic features (Juslin and Laukka, 2003; Table 7), it's clear that the acoustic patterns obtained do not always neatly correspond to categories. But to look for discrete categories in the acoustic data is to look at the wrong place altogether. Categorical perception is a creation of the mind, it's not in the physical stimulus. The relevant support comes from work that shows that vocal emotion expression is perceived categorically (Laukka, 2005). The argument is that this evolved tendency to interpret emotional meaning in sounds in terms of certain categories places some constraints on musical expression also.

I have speculated (Juslin, 2001) that the origin of music lies in ceremonies of the distant past that related vocal emotion expression to singing: vocal expressions of basic emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger and love probably became gradually meshed with vocal music that accompanied associated cultural activities, such as festivities, funerals, wars, and caregiving. The implication is that basic emotions are “privileged,” in the sense that they are biologically prepared for effective communication.

That basic emotions are easier to convey reliably in musical expression is also partly an effect of the fact the communicative process involves partly redundant cues which limits the amount of information that may be conveyed through the “channel,” as captured by the Lens Model for music and emotion first proposed and implemented by Juslin (1995, 2000). This characteristic might also be explained in terms of evolutionary pressures: Ultimately, it is more important to avoid making serious mistakes (e.g., mistaking anger for joy), than to have the ability to make subtle discriminations among emotions (e.g., reliably recognizing different types of joy). Thus, a listener's interpretation of emotions in music will tend to gravitate toward basic categories.

Resistance against basic emotions

As shown above there are plenty of reasons to adopt a categorical approach in terms of basic emotions. Why, then, has the notion of basic emotions been treated with so much skepticism in the music field recently? The reasons may be different, depending on who the skeptics are. Among musicians, there may be a sense that the concept of basic emotions somehow implies a low level of musical sophistication. (Who would like to have his or her music compositions or performances described as “basic”?) As pointed out by Juslin and Lindström, (2010), however, the term basic emotion does not imply that the music itself is “basic”: indeed, “basic emotions may be expressed in the most sublime manner” (p. 356). The term simply highlights the fact that basic emotions are at the core of human emotions. (Moreover, for most theorists, the idea of basic emotions also means that there are more complex emotions; see section Beyond Basic Emotions: Intrinsic and Associative Coding) Yet, one source of resistance to basic emotions is probably the terminology as such.

One way to reduce resistance to the notion of basic emotions amongst musicians could be to demonstrate their natural relationships to the everyday praxis of musicians, even in classical music. Could it be the case that these terms used merely as shorthand for broad categories of emotion in musical expression in previous studies (Juslin, 2001) can be “translated” to some “language” more familiar to the working musician? Musical scores often include “expression marks” that serve to indicate not only the tempo of the music but also the intended expressive character of the music. In a recent study (Juslin and Wiik, submitted), professional performers and psychology students were required to rate a highly varied set of pieces of classical music with regard to 20 expression marks rated as common by music experts and 20 emotion terms rated as feasible in the context of musical expression (e.g., Lindström et al., 2003). When the ratings were combined, the analysis yielded highly significant correlations among expression marks and emotion terms—in particular for basic emotions (Table ​2). The results may not be particularly surprising, given that expression marks typically involve reference to motion and emotion characters. But the point is that when music psychologists talk about basic emotions, they may well be referring to precisely the same expressive qualities that performers consider in expression marks throughout their daily work. Again we should not get too hung up on the superficial labels used to refer to the underlying emotion categories4.

Table 2

Examples of correlations between commonly used expression marks in music scores and basic-emotion labels used by psychologists.

Among music researchers, resistance to basic emotions seems to be due to certain myths that have been allowed to flourish unchallenged, and that have contributed to a misunderstanding of the concept of basic emotions. Six of these myths warrant closer consideration here.

Myth 1: “There is no agreement about which emotions are basic.” Basic emotions have been criticized, based on the fact that different emotion theorists have come up with different lists of emotions (Ortony and Turner, 1990). But this argument is, on reflection, a little suspect. There is a key question we should ask about the concept of basic emotions: does the concept help to narrow down and organize the field of emotion in a way that makes for greater agreement and consistency amongst those researchers who adopt the concept than amongst those who don't? If so, the concept is heuristic. Note that ideas about emotions depend crucially on how one defines an emotion. This helps to explain differences with respect to the lists of basic emotions proposed so far. How can we expect the authors to come up with the same set of basic emotions if they don't define emotions in the same way? The relevant question to ask is therefore: is there agreement about which emotions are basic amongst those who define emotions in a similar way? In fact, if we consider the authors who adopt similar definitions of emotions (e.g., in terms of their evolutionary adaptiveness), there is a lot of agreement about which emotions are basic (e.g., Plutchik, 1980). There is arguably more disagreement about the term “emotion” itself than about basic emotions (cf. Kleinginna and Kleinginna, 1981). Yet, few would argue that we should abandon the term “emotion.”

Myth 2: “Basic-emotions are incompatible with appraisal theory.” Sometimes the basic-emotion approach is contrasted with “appraisal theories” (Scherer, 1984), which aim to describe the processes through which an emotion is aroused. This is misleading, as it implies that the basic-emotion approach is somehow incompatible with appraisal. In fact, it turns out that many appraisal theorists embrace the notion of basic or primary emotions (see Lazarus, 1991; Roseman, 1991; Stein and Trabasso, 1992). Appraisal is a fundamental aspect of emotion induction that must be part of any emotion theory regardless of how it conceptualizes the resulting emotions. A component-process theory (e.g., Scherer, 1984) does not differ from a basic-emotion theory because it involves appraisal: The primary difference between the two types of theories is that the former assumes that there are as many emotion categories as there are possible outcome combinations of the appraisal-criteria included. (To my knowledge, this essential assumption has never actually been tested and verified by any researcher). The latter type, in contrast, assumes that cognitive appraisals typically result in a fewer number of broad categories, with more differentiated appraisals producing nuances within the categories, rather than additional categories. Regardless, basic-emotion theories are compatible with attempts to model the appraisal process that produces an emotion5.

Myth 3: “Basic emotions are crude and lacking in nuance.” This refers to the common view that emotion categories do not allow for the occurrence of subtle nuances within a category. This reflects a misunderstanding of the very concept of a category. Just as there are different shades of blue, there can be different shades of sadness. The notion of basic emotions implies that, emotions from distinct basic-level categories are more different from one another than are different emotions from within the same category (e.g., sadness and joy differ more than, say, sadness and melancholy); this doesn't preclude that there are nuances within categories as well. The notion of an emotion category is nicely captured by the word “emotion family” (e.g., Ekman, 1992). Each family includes a “theme” and its “variations.” The “theme” represents the common characteristics of the basic emotion and the “variations” all the subtle nuances and shadings that might occur within the category. Laukka and Juslin (2007) reported that listeners could accurately recognize various intensity levels (high or low) of basic emotions in both vocal and musical expressions. Hence, there's an implicit dimensionality within basic-level emotion categories. Schubert (2010) points out that although we often think of using continuous-response methodology only with respect to dimensional models, it's perfectly possible to collect continuous ratings of discrete emotions also (e.g., to rate the amount of sadness while the music unfolds). In addition, many emotion researchers postulate “secondary” or “mixed” emotions which are founded on basic emotions, but that involve “blends” of emotions (Plutchik, 1994), or specific cognitive appraisals which occur together with a basic emotion (Oatley, 1992). Hence, Johnson-Laird and Oatley (1989) were able to sort several hundreds of emotion terms into just five basic emotion categories or some subset of them. Basic-emotion theories are able to accommodate diversity and nuances, including ebb and flow in emotion over time.

Myth 4: “Basic emotions are always full-blown responses.” Basic emotions are commonly depicted by critics in a stereotyped manner, which borders on caricature: it's usually about hair-raising fear when confronted by a bear! But basic emotions may vary in intensity (e.g., from frustration or irritation to anger and rage). There is nothing in the concept of basic emotions as such that requires that the emotion will always be intense. Basic emotions are typically portrayed in such a way by critics in order to make the emotions appear irrelevant in everyday life (or in music). Are basic emotions relevant in everyday life? In the context of vocal expression, Cowie et al. (1999) asked participants to select a subset of emotions that they thought were important in everyday life. This produced a list of 16 emotions and labels chosen included basic emotions in different variants such as anger, fear, happiness, sadness, love, worry, interest and affection (cf. Panksepp's seven emotional systems): we feel irritated when we can't find a parking space; tender when our children greet us; anxious when we receive letters from the tax office; or enthusiastic when we get a paper accepted. The mere fact that most emotions experienced in everyday life aren't particularly intense does not imply that they do not involve basic-emotion categories6. Consider Plutchik's (1994) cone model of basic emotions (Figure ​1). The circular arrangement shows the degree of similarity among the emotions, whereas the vertical dimension shows the intensity dimension. One consequence of this arrangement is that emotions of a lower intensity are closer to each other, and hence more similar, than are emotions of a high intensity. It may be that music often operates in the lower section of the cone, rather than in the extreme section representing “full-blown emotions,” but the same emotion categories are still involved. Therefore, we may not always “detect” discrete emotions in everyday life situations or in musical expressions, simply because milder versions of basic emotions involve more subtle differences.

Figure 1

Plutchik's “cone model” of emotion (adapted from Plutchik, 1994).

Myth 5: “Basic emotions are not relevant in music.” The above myths can explain a further myth: that basic emotions are irrelevant in the context of musical expression. One moment's reflection suggests the opposite—if there is any type of emotions that could be expected to have a strong and natural link to musical expression, then it's the basic-emotion type: basic emotions can be conveyed nonverbally through gesture and tone of voice using similar patterns (e.g., Clynes, 1977; Juslin, 1997), whereas more complex emotions don't have similarly distinct nonverbal patterns. We also saw that emotions that are regarded as basic emotions (e.g., happiness, sadness, anger, tenderness, fear) seem easiest to express and perceive in music, as indexed by listener agreement (Gabrielsson and Juslin, 2003) and ratings by both musicians (Lindström et al., 2003) and listeners (Juslin and Laukka, 2004). Zentner and Eerola (2010) submit that discrete-emotion models were not developed to study music. This is of course true, but in the context of perceived emotion, this misses the greater point: that music probably evolved on the foundation of vocal expressions of basic emotions. Hence, examples of such basic emotions may easily be found also in commercially available recorded music. For example, Leech-Wilkinson (2006) offers a large number of examples of “expressive gestures” used by singers to express basic emotions, such as fear, sadness, anger, love, and disgust in Schubert Lieder (see also analysis by Spitzer, 2010). Further, if we leave classical music aside for the moment—since it is a minority interest in the world, and even in the Western world (Hargreaves, 1986)—and look at the types of music most frequently heard in everyday life, we find that popular music involves songs about things that matter to people, the stuff that makes them happy, sad, angry, afraid, or tender.

Myth 6: “Basic emotions have dominated in studies of music and emotion.” This concerns the increasingly common claim that basic or discrete emotions have somehow dominated in music and emotion research. The actual data reveal something else. Eerola and Vuoskoski (2013) recently reviewed studies of music and emotion published over a ten-year period (from 1988 to 2009). They found that about one third of these studies adopted a basic or discrete-emotions perspective. This shows, then, that the majority of studies of music and emotion have not focused on basic emotions. This is even more true, if one extends the time-frame of the overview. For instance, Gabrielsson and Juslin (2003), who reviewed studies of emotional expression in music from the 1890's, observed that the concept of basic emotions, and other influences from emotion psychology in general, have come into studies of musical expression quite recently, and then primarily in studies of music performance. In most of the investigations to date, the emotions measured have instead been chosen based on statements from philosophers and music theorists; suggestions from previous studies; and intuition, folk psychology, and personal experience. All together, the emotion labels used in previous work are counted in hundreds. Therefore, the view that basic emotions have dominated in previous studies of music and emotion is largely a “straw man”7.

A positive explanatory role of basic emotions

If we can get past the above myths about basic emotions, and consider the concept on its own merits, we may find that it can be highly heuristic to our understanding of musical expression. Few researchers in the music field have explicitly adopted a basic-emotions approach (but see Clynes, 1977). I proposed such an approach specifically in the context of studies of emotional expression in the performance of music (and not as an all-encompassing solution for the field of musical emotion), because I thought the concept could uniquely help to account for several of the findings in that field (see Juslin, 1997). The findings that have amassed since then have only reinforced this belief. Hence, consistent with the idea that emotional expression in music performance is mainly based on a code for vocal expression of basic emotions that has served important functions throughout evolution is evidence that:

  • Basic emotions in vocal expressions can be recognized cross-culturally, even in traditional cultures (Bryan and Barrett, 2008)

  • Basic emotions in vocal expression are perceived categorically (e.g., de Gelder and Vroomen, 1996; Laukka, 2005)

  • It is notoriously difficult to “retrain” a participant so as to express a specific basic emotion with a different expressive pattern (Clynes, 1977, pp. 44–45)

  • There are significant similarities between vocal expression and musical expression of basic emotions (Juslin and Laukka, 2003; Table 7)

  • There is a similar pattern of age-related differences in recognition of emotions from vocal expression and music performance (Laukka and Juslin, 2007; see also Lima and Castro, 2011)

  • Congenitally amusic individuals (with deficits in processing acoustic and structural attributes of music) are significantly worse than matched controls at decoding basic emotions in vocal expressions (Thompson et al., 2012)

  • Basic emotions are easier to communicate than complex emotions in music (Gabrielsson and Juslin, 1996; cf. Senju and Ohgushi, 1987)

  • Basic emotions in music can be recognized cross-culturally (Fritz et al., 2009)

  • Basic emotions in music show high cross-cultural agreement, whereas non-basic emotions show low cross-cultural agreement (Laukka et al., 2013)

  • Basic emotions such as sorrow, anger, love, joy and fear are explicitly part of many non-Western theories of musical emotions (e.g., Becker, 2004, p. 58)

  • Decoding of basic emotions in music is very quick (Peretz et al., 1998; Bigand et al., 2005)

  • Decoding of basic emotions in music does not require musical training (e.g., Juslin, 1997; Vieillard et al., 2008)

  • Expression of basic emotions in music does not require musical training (Yamasaki, 2002)

  • Even children (3 or 4 years old) are able to decode basic emotions in music with better than chance accuracy (Cunningham and Sterling, 1988; Terwogt and van Grinsven, 1991)

  • Even children are be able to use voice-related cues to express basic emotions in their songs (Adachi and Trehub, 1998)

  • The ability to decode basic emotions in music performances is correlated with measures of emotional intelligence (Resnicow et al., 2004)

  • There are cross-cultural similarities in cue utilization for features shared between vocal expression and musical expression (Balkwill and Thompson, 1999; Laukka et al., 2013)

  • Decoding of basic emotions in music performances involves many of the same brain regions as perception of basic emotions in vocal expression (Escoffier et al., 2013)

It is my strong belief that no other emotion approach can nearly as convincingly account for the above findings regarding expression of emotion in music performance. The dimensional approach would have to explain why there is categorical perception of emotional expression if emotions are processed as continuous dimensions. It would also have to explain why some emotions are more easily expressed and recognized than others, if all emotions can be placed along the same continuous dimensions. Component-process theories would have to show that there are as many recognizable emotion categories in musical expression as there are possible appraisal-combination outcomes. This is a tall order, and I do not expect it to happen anytime soon. In contrast, a basic-emotions approach (Juslin, 1998) predicts categorical perception of emotions and higher listener agreement or decoding accuracy for emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and tenderness.

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