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Emotional Experience of Music by the Young

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Music
Wordcount: 5202 words Published: 26th Jul 2021

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Music is often seen as a way to pass time when in commute or when studying, however recent studies from Mohn et al (2010) supported findings of research undertaken by Ekman and Friesen (1971). These studies found that six universal emotions are identifiable within unknown music stimuli. The present study focused on three out of six basic emotions due to the availability of music to best suit the presented research. The presented study used twenty-six participants 12 (50%) were female and 12 (50%) were male. These participants were exposed to 10 to fifteen second segments of instrumental music from current popular music.

The study was undertaken within a non-soundproof room in the learning centre at Mornington Secondary Collage. The segments of instrumental music were presented to the participants through an electronic whiteboard connected to surround sound speakers. All of the participants were exposed to the stimuli within the same order and for the same length as they were all tested together.

The presented study found that all three of the basic universal emotions were able to be identified within current instrumental aspects of popular songs with happiness and sadness being the most identifiable emotion, although anger was most commonly associated with happiness, this was later determined that the results of the study was influenced by the participant’s preference of genre as 73% of participants preferred rock over any other genre of music, this lead to the participants perceiving what emotions they were feeling over what emotions the music was expressing. This could have been due to the age of the participants as 13 (50%) of participants were aged 12and 13 (50%) were aged 14.

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Music is a major part of history, culture and our current world. Within the modern era, all ages and races have the ability to listen to music, from the theme tune of a popular television show or for background music whilst walking to class or studying. The Share of Listening Australia found that Australians listen to an average of 3.4 hours of music per day. Today’s generation has been associated to be based around music, Devices such as the Amazon Echo or IPod have made music to become more accessible no matter where you are and streaming services like Apple music, Spotify and Amazon music have created playlist either updated daily or weekly and have associated certain songs with a range of emotions, examples include; playlist’s designed to help study (associates music with a slow beat with a calming effect), playlists to host a party (associates music with a higher beat and deep bass with fun), or a break-up playlist (associates music with a slow beat and low tempo- usually a ballad.) These playlists judge factors such as tempo’s, beats per minute, and the selected chords within the chord progression throughout the song to dictate the chosen emotions, however many people can still perceive the emotions within music differently this can be due to an individual’s personal experiences of that genre of music or just how their neutral mood currently is. According to Paul Ekman’s (Ekman and Friesen, 1971; Ekman, Leverson, and Friesen, 1983) neuro-cultural theory the six basic emotion – happiness, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, and fear – are associated with separate facial expressions and the ability to identify these emotions are believed to be universal through humans. In accordance with their neuro-cultural theory that emotions that have the ability to being expressed with the use of facial expressions also are available to be recognised as well as expressed vocally. The Primary reason for music in everyday life is due to the ability of music to be able to regulate an individual’s emotions and alter how they are feeling in a current situation. Studies on the psychological aspects of music such as a studies undertaken by Mohn et al (2010) and emotion have sparsely concentrated on limited numbers of emotion, commonly a likert-type scale which rates the strength of happiness and sadness, whilst this displays the level of understanding of the intended emotions, these studies limit the understanding of perception of emotions being portrayed within the musical stimuli. The current study presented aims to extend provided knowledge from previous studies, by not only focusing on perceived emotions, but also finding if pre-selected music based on chord progressions and the selection of stimuli chosen via randomly generated mood playlist from streaming services such as Spotify as well as the musical structure such as; tone, beat and pitch have an influence on year seven students at Mornington Secondary Collage emotional regulation. The present study will also investigate the student’s ability to perceive emotion within music and whether previous musical events such as concerts or prior music education through playing an instrument has an effect on their ability to correctly perceive the intended emotion.

Musical structure and emotional perception

Increased activity in different brain regions have been associated with reward and emotional elevation when listening to pleasurable music, as demonstrated by numerous studies undertake by various university’s such as Monash University and School of Psychological Sciences unexpected changes in the structure of music, including changes to the Tempo and Intensity of Instrumentation, enhances anticipation and tension experienced by the audience. Scherer and Countinho (2013) have discussed that music secretes aesthetic emotion’s that have no relevance to the survival of an organism. The fake emotion is said to be triggered by novelty and complexity, as displayed in musical stimuli. Scherer and Countinho (2013) have also proposed that music can appropriate the emotion system as key features are shared by the stimuli and the system. Higher levels of musical structure change in feature, whether it be an unexpected chord matching, change in pitch, timbre, volume, tempo, or instrumental change can induce emotions via the organism being anticipating the change. Songs being played in the minor scale can induce feelings of negativity and gloom, whilst songs being played within the major scale can induce emotions of joy and pleasure.  A survey undertaken by Scherer et al. (2002) founded that musical structure and acoustic features are most important in determining emotional reactions, the listener’s mood, involvement or personality doesn’t have any sudden connection to the emotions experienced, this finding was taken into account throughout the presented study with the researcher using instrumental tracks within the study to further engage the listening process of the audience and limiting any emotions being expressed vocally.

Structural and suprasegmental features of music and emotion

Structural features: Structural features, which is defined as the foundation of musical structure. The structural features of music can be divided into two parts segmental features which include the individual sounds or tones that structure the components of musical stimuli which includes the duration, level of amplitude and the chosen pitch of all instruments as well as vocals featured on the track.Suprasegmental features: suprasegmental features are the foundation of the structure including melody, tempo and rhythm in all instruments and vocals featured on the track. The musical components within the segmental and suprasegmental features have been repetitively associated with particular emotions. The most well-known suprasegmental feature to influence emotion is the tempo and beat, and is most commonly known to have associations with emotions by the speed and beats per minute (Bpm) within the most prominent instruments within the instrumental aspects however other components such as mode, volume and melody/chord progressions can also influence the perception of emotion in the stimuli, when the listener removes.  A study undertaken by Dellacherie, D., Roy, M., Hugueville, L., Peretz, I., & Samson, S. (2011), Found that the perception of emotion recognised within musical components are universal, however music from one’s own culture (within the presented study is Western) will have a stronger impact on their perception and how it coveys meaning to the individual, due to the greater exposure the individual has had.

Rationale of presented study

In order to explore the possibility of three out of six basic universal emotions- happiness, sadness and anger- being recognized in current popular music, the researcher developed a test of emotional perception in current popular music. The researcher validated the six instrumental music segments used to ensure that the selected musical stimulants would be best suited for the randomly selected population so they would be able to identify an emotion within the randomly selected sample. The presented study demonstrated that these three emotions were identifiable in known musical stimuli, and that there was no significant difference in between students with previous music education and experiences involving musical stimuli. The present study aims to investigate the identifiable emotions within current popular music by using a convenience sample of twenty-six students, as well as determining whether previous musical experiences or previous musical education would have a greater effect on their ability to correctly identify emotions within music. The hypothesis for the presented study was, It’s hypothesised that three out of the six basic universal emotions would be correctly perceived within known musical stimuli once presented to an audience of twenty-six randomly selected years seven students at Mornington Secondary Collage. Furthermore, it was hypothesised that anger would be the most commonly perceived as another emotion rather than anger based on previous studies and the similar structure anger has to happiness when displaying the emotion within music.


Subject and procedure: The present study used twenty-six years seven students at Mornington secondary Collage (15, 57% males, 11, 42% female) were randomly chosen through a convenience sample via an email of teachers willing for their class to participate. The only exclusion to being chosen for the study was if the class wasn’t a year seven class or was a mixed class of both year sevens and eights. Demographic characteristics and data on previous musical education and musical experience as well as listening habits are displayed in table 1.The participants were all tested within the same room at the same time. The test room was within a non-soundproof room within the learning centre at Mornington Secondary Collage. The room used provided to be a small distraction to participants as they were grouped on tables rather than being separated to complete the test completely individually. The musical segments were played through an electronic white bored via computer, that used surround sound. Before the survey that lasted 10 minutes the participants filled in a questioner about their demographic characteristics and listening habits, the questioner lasted approx. five minutes for all participants to complete. The entire research session lasted approx. fifteen minutes. The study was approved by the head teacher of the year seven cohort as well as supporting teachers from the classes that the research was provided to. and all participants were given the opportunity to participate by filling in their questioner or leaving the answer space blank, if the participant did not wish to participate in the study. Participants who did not wish to undertake the survey were not forced to within the session or before or after the session. Participants were given one week from the time the test took place to remove their answer sheets from the research if they did not wish to continue participating within the study.

Table 1. Demography and music habits of the participants



12 (50%)


13 (50%)

Years of musical education*

4.33 years

Time spent listening to music



25 (96%)


1 (3%)

Preferences of music type



19 (73%)


6 (23%)


1 (3%)

Concerts attended*

3.7 concerts attended



Perception of emotions in music

The current test of perception has been altered than what was described in the piolet study, in order to better suite the population of the current study. Six well known instrumental segments, composed from current pop artists (Ed Sheeran, Slipknot, Lewis Capaldi, One Republic, Post Malone and Volbeat). The segments, all from the western tonal system, which is music that is based around major and minor scales and corresponding notes. These instrumental segments were intended to represent three of the six basic emotions (happiness, anger, sadness) and all segments have been professionally mixed and recorded in a studio. The segments broadly represented the preferred musical genres of the 

*Numbers is in mean average. Other refers to any other genre not mentioned.

sample population, which was shown to have an effect on the results of the study. The six instrumental segments were provided by six major names in music currently with all of these instrumental samples being played were played for ten to fifteen seconds and are all currently in the top 40 of the charts appropriate to their genre. Happiness 1- #38, Happiness 2- #3, Sadness 1 #4, Sadness 2 #10 Anger 1 #1, Anger 2 #3. All of the musical stimuli was taken from Spotify mood playlists which have been organised on all structural features known to produce emotion within the listener. Between the exposure of each musical segment participants were provided a fifteen second break between each segment to reflect on how they felt and provide their answer on the provided paper. As all participants under-took the study in the same room, they were all exposed to the stimuli at the same time and in the same order. Participants were instructed to classify each segment as one of the tree emotions listed on the questionnaire. All participants were informed that they could only choose one emotion per segment.

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Musical preferences of the participants

Before all participants completed their perception test they were asked to complete a questioner developed to get a better understanding into the characteristics of the participants. Questions asked within this questioner regarded the participants age, gender, number of musical events attended, number of music education they had received in their lifetime, and their preferred genre of music. Preferences of music were left open however results can be seen in Table 1. As shown 19 (73%) participants preferred rock which is suspected to have had an impacted the final result of the presented study, due to the misclassification of anger commonly being perceived as happiness.


The results of the presented study were collaborated using a tally from the answer sheets provided by the participants at the completion of the study. The results of the study will be explained more in depth throughout the rest of the paper however, the hypothesis had correct indication into what would happen during the study.

Perception of musical emotions

The percentages of correct and incorrect classifications of musical emotions in the six segments are provided in table 2. It was shown that anger was the most difficult classification for participants to correctly answer, as it was most commonly referred to happiness (53% for anger 1 and 76% for anger 2). Participants who classified anger as happiness had a preference for rock music, which could have had an influence in their perception of emotion. Happiness and sadness the easiest to classified with only19 % of participants referring to happy 1 and 2 as sadness. For sadness 1 11% classified it as happiness and sadness 2 19% classifying it for happiness. The results suggests, error in correct classification of anger could be related to the musical preferences of the participants, as their preferred genre was rock music. Previous studies completed by Mohn et al had similar results as anger was misclassified as surprise and reported that there was correlation between musical experiences in the participants and how they classified each emotion.


The goal of this study was to determine whether year 7 students at Mornington Secondary collage could correctly perceive three out of the six basic universal emotions- happiness, anger and sadness. The results of the presented study showed that whilst these emotions could be perceived in current pop hits, the musical preference of the participants had effected the results of the study by making anger be misclassified as happiness, The present study also showed that the ability to perceive emotion in music had no correlation to previous musical education or experiences.

The relationship between musical genre preference and the perception of emotion in music

19 out of 26 participants (73%) preferred the genre of rock over any other genre which may have a correlation between the number of incorrect classifications in the emotion of anger with happiness. Within the pilot’s study by Mohn et al had similar results within their study as sadness and happiness were the easiest to correctly classify and anger being the hardest to classify, however within the pilot study there was no mention of how the participant’s genre preference had a correlation to how they perceived the emotions.  The results of the present study show that participants who preferred rock music commonly misclassified Anger as Happiness (53% within anger 1 and 23% for anger 2.). Which also aligns with the finding of Kallinen (2005), who found that sadness and happiness are the emotions most often expressed in Western music due to sadness and happiness being easily expressed in music due to the high distinction of musical structure in terms of mode, tempo and the cord progression found within rock the different genres. Furthermore, most of the population who have been exposed to the Western Tonal System from a young age have learnt to associate slow music, within a minor progression with sadness and grief and fast music within the major progression with pleasure and enjoyment. Due to the large exposure of music using happiness and sadness from a young age using pieces with less clear- cut emotional content such as surprise, disgust and fear (the other three of six basic universal emotions) has a niche following within The Western tonal system, therefore the researcher didn’t include these emotions within the study as there was no relationship between current popular music and those emotions.

The relationship between musical education and the perception of emotion

Within the presented study there was an average of 4.33 years of musical education, and whilst they had better classifications of happiness, other emotions had no difference between those who had musical education compared to participants who did not have a history of musical education. However, those who participate in musical education from a young age become better at emotional expressions, as it can demonstrate what the emotion sounds like emphasizing the structure of music and how that can morph into an emotion, whilst this skill is mostly beneficial to young children, those with the skill gain the advantage to demonstrate what they are feeling when they don’t have a name for the emotion.

How emotions displayed within current pop music influence emotions felt within the participants

During the test of perception, when participants selected the emotion they were feeling listening to one of the six tracks used they were also asked to rate how deeply they felt that emotion using a Likert scale. For both sadness one and two 73% of participants had a deep connection with that emotion (between a 7 – 10), while 15% said the featured instrumentation had a small influence in their current mood (between 4 – 6) while only 12% of participants had little to no influence in their emotion (between 1-3). Happiness tracks one and two displayed very similar results with 75% of participants having a massive connection to the chosen results, 15% having a mild connection and 13% having little to no connection. Anger tracks one and two had extremely different results with 82% of participants having similar emotions to those being expressed within the track, however they were experiencing the emotion of happiness. 18% of participants only had a mild connection to the music, whilst displaying a mix of happiness and the correct emotion of anger. These results show that while emotions can be transferred from the song to the listener, they will only experience the emotion they have interpreted from the music rather than the emotion being expressed through the music. Finding from another study undertaken by Brattico et al (2016) showed that participants with DRD2GG receptors had improved mud after being exposed to music and detreated after white noise exposure. “These findings suggest that genetic vulnerability of dopamine receptors affects sound environment modulations of mood and emotion processing” – Elvira Brattico, Professor at Aarhus University, Denmark.

Strengths, limitations and future studies

A strength of the present study is utilizing the neuro-cultural theory of emotion (Ekman and Friesen 1971) to provide a strong base to provide a clear pathway for the intentions of the research and contributing to the study of emotional perception within the western tonal system, using well known instrumental music compared to other study’s such as Mohn et al’s unknown musical stimuli that was created for the sole purpose of being used in the study. By using current music intended of original music it provides an area for further research.By employing the instrumental tracks of well-known musical stimuli it rules out any effects the vocals my employ via changes of tone in the voice of the singer. It may be argued that by choosing to use well known musical stimuli the participants would already have perceptions of the emotion being portrayed in the music, however by stripping the vocals of a track and just using the instrumentation it eliminates any apparent changes within tone and creates more unsuspecting tonal changes as the participants are more focused on the structure of the music rather than the vocals making the listener more prone to hearing over-plucked strings in an acoustic instrumentation or a drum being hit in a different time to the bass being strummed, creating a stronger emotional reaction within the participants. Future studies could compare how current music may have a higher amount of correct answers within a perception test compared to unknown stimuli. Another strength of the presented study includes investigating the ability for music to effect the emotions that the listener is currently experiencing at the time of listening and a brief period of time after listening to the stimuli. Future research could include a deeper research into how long the emotions within the participant will be altered for and they may investigate the effects music has on dopamine regulation, as research by Brattico et al (2016) has suggested that a variation of the dopamine D2 receptor better known as (DRD2) gene is impacted by music, suggesting that “non-pharmaceutical intervention, such as music could regulate mood and emotional responses at both a behavioural and neuronal level” – Elvira Brattico, Professor at Aarhus University, Demark.The present study also employs research into how the overall preference of genre within participants may affect the perception of emotion within the participants, as within the present study 73% of participants preferred rock music and anger was the most incorrectly perceived emotion being commonly misclassified as happiness by 53% for anger 1 and 76% for anger 2. Future research could go more in-depth within the musical preference and the perception of emotions. Despite the study having many strengths, there were also certain limitations that may influence the interpretation of results. The first, of many include the sample size used in the study. Previous studies used an average of 100 participants, however the present study uses a total of 26 participants, this was due to convenience as the researcher originally presented the study to 80 participants the 54 participants missing were either not wanting to participate in the study or gave answers that couldn’t be used in the study, upon review of the results the researcher tried to gain more participants however time limitations and other factors such as the different timetable structure made an influence in the amount of participants. Future studies could use more participants in their study as it will give border results and the results will be able to be generalised within the focused age group. Second, the present study employs musical stimuli only found in the Western Tonal system this causes problems for cross-caltural studies and having the results able to be generalised within the specified age categories being in the focus of research.  Future research could introduce stimuli from other Tonal systems to cross-reference with, however Balkwill and Thompson (1999) have demonstrated that humans can work out the intended emotions in music from unfamiliar cultures. Their study reported that Japanese listeners can correctly identify emotion in Japanese, Western and Hindustani music, Western Listeners identified the six basic universal emotions (Happiness, anger, sadness, fear, surprise and Disgust in Japanese Western and Hindustani music and a sample of people who have never been exposed to the Western tonal system were able to easily identify happiness, sadness and fear in Western art music. These results from previous studies reinforces that the present study should have included music from other tonal systems, although, this was not covered in the research question that this research was based around, However, future research could invest how Western listeners interoperate emotions from opposing tonal system. Another limitation to the study was while participants were asked to choose between the three emotions provided on the questioner that they felt whilst listening to the instrumentation, the participant may have felt restrained to what emotion they should be experiencing leading them randomly select what they are feeling rather than providing the researcher with what their true feeling was, this may have had an impact on the results and provide false results within the findings of the study.


In conclusion, the results of this study showed that three out of six basic universal emotions that a shown within current pop music from the western tonal system have the ability to influence the emotions of year 7’s at Mornington Secondary Collage. Results from the present study also shows that the basic emotions explored within the study are able to be perceived within music. However, due to the small sample size used and the use of a convenience sample for the research the results cannot be generalised to a larger peer audience.


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