Music could be the key to managing emotion and improving mental wellbeing, according to new research from the University of York carried out in collaboration with AV and installation brand Bang & Olufsen.

Expert music psychologist and neuroscientist, Dr Hauke Egermann, recently released his latest research into the emotional effects of music and the impact it has our state of mind.

An interesting finding from the report was that emotions such as sadness can be ‘enjoyable’ when experienced through music.

The report, entitled ‘Compose yourself: The Emotional Influence of Music’, explored how four selected pieces of music, with varying emotional characteristics, induce contrasting emotional responses in listeners.

The study used a unique Audience Response System, developed by the Department of Music, University of York, to monitor emotional indicators such as heart rate and skin conductance and record psychological and physiological responses. Out of the four songs tested, the ‘saddest’ of them was found to have the second highest ‘pleasantness’ rating, as well as inducing sadness in listeners.

The report explains, “Emotions such as anger, sadness, or fear would normally be experienced as negative and unpleasant in a non-musical context. However, in this study, when those emotions were induced through music, participants experienced them as pleasant.”

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 Scientific evidence shows it can calm the mind

The report also found that negative music generally had a physiologically calming effect on listeners and could therefore be used to help address emotional issues. On average, skin conductance (a measurement used to monitor arousal to stimuli) was lower while all of the compositions were playing than during the silent pauses in between each piece.

The report’s experts say, “In this study, listeners enjoyed this form of stimulation and it helped them to relax and calm down… We conclude that taking time to listen to music has an important function in coping with any emotional challenges we experience.”

Dr Hauke Egermann, director of York Music Psychology Group at the University of York oversaw the research and compiled the report. A TEDx speaker with a PhD in Music Psychology and Neuroscience, the findings underline his existing theories and research regarding the powerful psychological potential of music.

Dr Egermann, says, “These findings provide further evidence that music can form an important part of our overall mental wellbeing, helping us to regulate our mood. In particular, we have shown that music can override the negative impact of feeling sad and actually allow us to enjoy this emotion in a safe environment.”

Steve Devonshire, audio expert at Bang & Olufsen adds, “Bang & Olufsen commissioned this research into the emotional influence of music to underline the importance of taking time to press pause and play. In a chaotic world when everything and everyone is digitally available, disconnecting from work or from the constant stream of information available to us, has become the ultimate emblem of luxury.

“While technology fuels our ‘always on world’, conversely, we are now seeing people look to technology to help them break away from routines and create meaningful experiences. We believe in the ability of technology.”

Steve adds, ‘That it does not steal your attention, but earns it for all the right reasons. Whether you’re discovering new details of a favourite album through a pair of high-end loudspeakers or watching a film on an OLED TV with friends, the right technology allows us to enhance our downtime to improve our daily lives. This study clearly shows the effects and benefits music can have in helping us relax and enjoy these moments.”

The study involved a group of 20 male and female volunteers with a mean age of 28 listening to four songs, each featuring a specific configuration of musical characteristics that are typical for one of four different emotional expressions. The music selected was: Piece by Piece, Eivør evoking feelings of peacefulness, Happy Pharrell Williams for happiness, Into the Mist again by Eivør for anger and 9 Crimes by Damian Rice for sadness.