Why do we experience emotions when we listen to music? Which psychological mechanisms lead to that? P.A. Juslin, professor in music psychology has done research on it.
It throws light upon how music can cause emotions. According to Juslin seven underlying mechanisms are involved:
Brainstem reflex: The brain stem signals a potentially important and urgent event.
It can be induced by certain aspects in music, for example sounds that are sudden, loud or dissonant and also rapidly changing temporal patterns.
Brain stem reflexes are automatic and evoke arousal rather than a specific emotion.
Rhythmic entrainment: A powerful rhythm in music can influence internal bodily rhythms, such as heart rate, so that the bodily rhythm adjusts toward the external rhythm. The changed heart rate can induce a changed emotional state.
It can even lead to trance-like states. Think of techno music, rave party.
Evaluative conditioning: This is an unconscious process whereby an emotion is induced by music. A particular piece of music has repeatedly been coupled with a certain event.
For example if a certain piece of music always was played in a situation that made you happy, then that music can make you feel happy later on,
in other situations and even if you have forgotten to which occasion it belonged originally.
Emotional contagion: This refers to a process whereby a listener perceives the emotional expression of the music and then mimics this internally. For instance a sad piece of music makes the listener feel sad. Why does that happen?
Music often features acoustical patterns similar to those that occur in emotional speech. Juslin thinks that
the brain reacts on the music as if the sound was coming from the human voice conveying emotion.
Musical expectancy: Refers to a process whereby an emotion is induced because the music doesn’t go the way the listener expected it to go.
It refers to expectations concerning musical syntax. For instance an unexpected harmonic change can lead to getting goose bumps.
The expectations are based on previous experiences of the same musical style.
Visual imagery: The music induces inner images, which make the listener feel an emotion.
The image works as a metaphor for the music.
For instance the music causes the listener to see a beautiful landscape before his inner eye, which gives him a feeling of peace.
Episodic memory: The music evokes a personal memory. This appears to be one of the most frequent sources of emotion to music, especially when it concerns music that was heard under young adulthood. Possibly that is because many self-defining experiences tend to occur at this stage of life.
Music plays a prominent role in establishing a self-identity.