Emotional and psychophysiological responses to tempo, mode, and percussiveness

Marjolein van der Zwaag, Joyce H.D.M. Westerink, Egon van den Broek

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    People often listen to music to influence their emotional state. However, the specific musical characteristics which cause this process are not yet fully understood. We have investigated the influence of the musical characteristics of tempo, mode and percussiveness on our emotions. In a quest towards ecologically valid results, 32 participants listened to 16 pop and 16 rock songs while conducting an office task. They rated experienced arousal, valence, and tension, while skin conductance and cardiovascular responses were recorded. An increase in tempo was found to lead to an increase in reported arousal and tension and a decrease in heart rate variability. More arousal was reported during minor than major mode songs. Level and frequency of skin conductance responses increased with an increase in percussiveness. Physiological responses revealed patterns that might not have been revealed by self-report. Interaction effects further suggest that musical characteristics interplay in modulating emotions. So, tempo, mode, and percussiveness indeed modulate our emotions and, consequently, can be used to direct emotions. Music presentation revealed subtly different results in a laboratory setting, where music was altered with breaks, from those in a more ecologically valid setting where continuous music was presented. All in all, this enhances our understanding of the influence of music on emotions and creates opportunities seamlessly to tap into listeners’ emotional state through their physiological responses.
    Original languageUndefined
    Pages (from-to)250-269
    Number of pages20
    JournalMusicae scientiae
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2011


    • HMI-HF: Human Factors
    • HMI-SLT: Speech and Language Technology
    • Emotion
    • percussiveness
    • tempo
    • MUSIC
    • EWI-19893
    • psychophysiology
    • METIS-278708
    • IR-77741
    • mode

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