A constructionist theory of musical emotions

Julian Cespedes Guevara

My main research interest is the Psychology of Music, particularly the induction and perception of musical emotions, and experiences of empathy facilitated by music.

Recently, along with Professor Nicola Dibben (University of Sheffield, UK), we have started to research the phenomenon of music-based social intervention programmes in Colombia. Our aim is to understand how these music-training activities afford the development of prosocial behaviours and empathic attitudes.

Julian works at the Department of Psychology, University of Icesi, Cali, Colombia.

Thesis abstract

Listening to music can arouse a variety of affective responses. The study of this phenomenon has flourished during the last two decades, particularly thanks to the contribution of the BRECVEMA theory and the Multifactorial Process Model. Nevertheless, these theoretical frameworks have adopted a psychological reductionist approach that neglects the symbolic dimension of music, and the effect of situational factors. The first aim of this thesis is to overcome these shortcomings by proposing a theory based on contemporary constructionist theories of emotion. This novel theory proposes that listening to music activates automatic perceptual mechanisms that produce fluctuations of affect, and that the activation of associative and appraisal mechanisms transform the fluctuations of affect into a variety of emotional and nonemotional responses. The second aim was to test some of the hypotheses derived from this framework. The first experiment tests the prediction that listening to music while engaging in motor rhythmic entrainment leads to fluctuations of valence and arousal. Although the results did not support the hypothesis, they suggest that the phenomena of rhythmic entrainment, musical expectancy, and motor planning arise from shared perceptual principles. The second and third experiments investigate the phenomenon of emotional contagion with music. The results suggest that embodied simulation does not contribute significantly to listeners’ affective reactions, and that semantic knowledge activated by the music, by personal associations, and by extra musical information biases the type of perceived and induced emotions experienced by the listeners. The third aim of the thesis was to explore alternative ways of measuring musically-induced emotions. Two indirect techniques are implemented and evaluated, and a novel questionnaire of subjective experiences is developed. The main conclusion of the thesis is that the constructionist theory here proposed constitutes a fruitful approach, as it provides a non-reductionist heuristic framework that produces new hypotheses for future investigation.

Link: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/16297/