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Characteristics of music and their influence upon emotion

Garvey, Matthew (2012) Characteristics of music and their influence upon emotion. Northumbria University.


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Music holds inherent properties capable of influencing our emotional state. Characteristics of music such as mode and tempo are thought to influence emotional reactions and allow us to modulate our own emotional state through music listening. In an attempt to distinguish the effects of changing musical characteristics a replication of Van der Zwaag et al’s (2011) study was performed with adjustments. 20 participants listened to four musical tracks of which the characteristics of tempo and mode had been altered. Participants rated experienced arousal, valence and tension, whilst physiological measures of heart rate and skin conductance were recorded. Major mode music was shown to increase participant’s ratings of subjective positive valence and increase levels of skin conductance whilst reducing heart rate in relation to minor mode music. Increases in the tempo of music were found to raise participant’s subjective arousal scores. Whilst results from this study confirm current literature some results do show discrepancies with Van der Zwaag et al’s findings, theories for these differences are explored. Overall results show that tempo and mode do have emotional modulating characteristics and findings from this study increase our understanding of emotional influence though music. This study raises intriguing possibilities for future research and lends support to the use of music as therapy.

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