Emotion elicitation during music listening: Subjective self-reports, facial expression, and autonomic reactivity

Psychophysiology. 2021 Sep;58(9):e13884. doi: 10.1111/psyp.13884. Epub 2021 Jun 18.


The use of music as emotional stimuli in experimental studies has grown in recent years. However, prior studies have mainly focused on self-reports and central measures, with a few works exploring the time course of psychophysiological correlates. Moreover, most of the previous research has been carried out either from the dimensional or categorical model but not combining both approaches to emotions. This study aimed to investigate subjective and physiological correlates of emotion elicitation through music, following the three-dimensional and the discrete emotion model. A sample of 50 healthy volunteers (25 women) took part in this experiment by listening to 42 film music excerpts (14 pleasant, 14 unpleasant, 14 neutral) presented during 8 s, while peripheral measures were continuously recorded. After music offset, affective dimensions (valence, energy arousal, and tension arousal) as well as discrete emotions (happiness, sadness, tenderness, fear, and anger) were collected using a 9-point scale. Results showed an effect of the music category on subjective and psychophysiological measures. In peripheral physiology, greater electrodermal activity, heart rate acceleration, and zygomatic responses, besides lower corrugator amplitude, were observed for pleasant excerpts in comparison to neutral and unpleasant music, from 2 s after stimulus onset until the end of its duration. Overall, our results add evidence for the efficacy of standardized film music excerpts to evoke powerful emotions in laboratory settings; thus, opening a path to explore interventions based on music in pathologies with underlying emotion deregulatory processes.

Keywords: autonomic reactivity; emotion elicitation; facial expression; music; subjective ratings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Electromyography
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Facial Muscles / physiology*
  • Female
  • Galvanic Skin Response / physiology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Music*
  • Self Report
  • Young Adult