From Sound to Significance: Exploring the Mechanisms Underlying Emotional Reactions to Music.Am J Psychol. 2015 Fall; 128(3):281-304.AJ
A common approach to studying emotional reactions to music is to attempt to obtain direct links between musical surface features such as tempo and a listener's responses. However, such an analysis ultimately fails to explain why emotions are aroused in the listener. In this article we explore an alternative approach, which aims to account for musical emotions in terms of a set of psychological mechanisms that are activated by different types of information in a musical event. This approach was tested in 4 experiments that manipulated 4 mechanisms (brain stem reflex, contagion, episodic memory, musical expectancy) by selecting existing musical pieces that featured information relevant for each mechanism. The excerpts were played to 60 listeners, who were asked to rate their felt emotions on 15 scales. Skin conductance levels and facial expressions were measured, and listeners reported subjective impressions of relevance to specific mechanisms. Results indicated that the target mechanism conditions evoked emotions largely as predicted by a multimechanism framework and that mostly similar effects occurred across the experiments that included different pieces of music. We conclude that a satisfactory account of musical emotions requires consideration of how musical features and responses are mediated by a range of underlying mechanisms.