The joy of heartfelt music: An examination of emotional and physiological responses

Int J Psychophysiol. 2017 Oct;120:118-125. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2017.07.012. Epub 2017 Jul 27.


Music-listening can be a powerful therapeutic tool for mood rehabilitation, yet quality evidence for its validity as a singular treatment is scarce. Specifically, the relationship between music-induced mood improvement and meaningful physiological change, as well as the influence of music- and person-related covariates on these outcomes are yet to be comprehensively explored. Ninety-four healthy participants completed questionnaires probing demographics, personal information, and musical background. Participants listened to two prescribed musical pieces (one classical, one jazz), an "uplifting" piece of their own choice, and an acoustic control stimulus (white noise) in randomised order. Physiological responses (heart rate, respiration, galvanic skin response) were recorded throughout. After each piece, participants rated their subjective responses on a series of Likert scales. Subjectively, the self-selected pieces induced the most joy, and the classical piece was perceived as most relaxing, consistent with the arousal ratings proposed by a music selection panel. These two stimuli led to the greatest overall improvement in composite emotional state from baseline. Psycho-physiologically, self-selected pieces often elicited a "eustress" response ("positive arousal"), whereas classical music was associated with the highest heart rate variability. Very few person-related covariates appeared to affect responses, and music-related covariates (besides self-selection) appeared arbitrary. These data provide strong evidence that optimal music for therapy varies between individuals. Our findings additionally suggest that the self-selected music was most effective for inducing a joyous state; while low arousal classical music was most likely to shift the participant into a state of relaxation. Therapy should attempt to find the most effective and "heartfelt" music for each listener, according to therapeutic goals.

Keywords: Autonomic responses; Emotional state; Heart rate variability; Mood; Music-listening.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Electrocardiography
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Galvanic Skin Response / physiology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Music* / psychology
  • Personality
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Young Adult