Episode 19 – Aah, the feels… The link between music & emotion

Mastering of this episode, plus intro and outro music, by the ever-talented Dr Adrian Diery.

Does music have a universal effect on human emotion?

You know how music gives you a vibe? In Western culture, we have a pretty strong sense of what is “happy music” (get your dancing shoes on) and what is “sad music” (go grab some tissues).

It’s commonly thought that this comes down to musical pitch: that major harmonies and melodies provoke more happy feelings, and minor melodies and harmonies provoke more sad feelings. But does this hold across cultures? Researchers from Australia and Germany wanted to find out.

Results from the Australian participants were as expected – participants experienced more happiness from the major harmonies and melodies than the minor ones, especially among the trained musicians.

But for the Papua New Guinea participants, it wasn’t always the case that major harmonies and melodies were tied to happiness. This means the researchers didn’t find evidence that music has universal intrinsic effects on our human brains (thought they couldn’t rule it out definitively). Cultural influences seem likely to be at play here, including learned associations and familiarity. INTERESTING!

How does wellbeing affect musical creativity?

As we know, creative, talented people push boundaries and can even transform a culture – this may occur during their lifetime and continue after they die, or kick off some time after they die.

So then, what are some of the drivers of creativity? And, specifically: can creativity be borne out of negative emotion states or mental illness?

To answer this question, the author pored over 1,400 handwritten letters written by classical music composers Mozart, Beethoven and Liszt.

With the letters, the author completed a comprehensive linguistic analysis to work out to what extent each letter involved mention of positive vs negative emotions. This provides a longitudinal dataset where we can observe changes in positive and negative emotions over time, for each composer.

The data around emotional state were then compared with information about creativity levels: namely, the number of important, quality musical compositions at different time points.

Overall, the author found that more significant works were completed following phases of negative emotion. The author then drilled down and compared different negative emotional states (e.g., anger, anxiety and depression), and identified that sadness was the main feeling that was driving bursts of creativity. There was even the suggestion that the creative process may help to “burn down” the negative emotions.

Aleena and Janine discuss how learning into creative pursuits during the most difficult life phases may be a worthwhile strategy. Who knows what you might create and be remembered for!

The dark side of creativity

What brought out our inner square?

Photo by Stefany Andrade on Unsplash

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: