Modulation of the startle reflex by pleasant and unpleasant music.Int J Psychophysiol. 2009 Jan; 71(1):37-42.IJ
The issue of emotional feelings to music is the object of a classic debate in music psychology. Emotivists argue that emotions are really felt in response to music, whereas cognitivists believe that music is only representative of emotions. Psychophysiological recordings of emotional feelings to music might help to resolve the debate, but past studies have failed to show clear and consistent differences between musical excerpts of different emotional valence. Here, we compared the effects of pleasant and unpleasant musical excerpts on the startle eye blink reflex and associated body markers (such as the corrugator and zygomatic activity, skin conductance level and heart rate). The startle eye blink amplitude was larger and its latency was shorter during unpleasant compared with pleasant music, suggesting that the defensive emotional system was indeed modulated by music. Corrugator activity was also enhanced during unpleasant music, whereas skin conductance level was higher for pleasant excerpts. The startle reflex was the response that contributed the most in distinguishing pleasant and unpleasant music. Taken together, these results provide strong evidence that emotions were felt in response to music, supporting the emotivist stance.