Research indicates that people value music primarily because of the emotions it evokes. Yet, the notion of musical emotions remains controversial, and researchers have so far been unable to offer a satisfactory account of such emotions. We argue that the study of musical emotions has suffered from a neglect of underlying mechanisms. Specifically, researchers have studied musical emotions without regard to how they were evoked, or have assumed that the emotions must be based on the “default” mechanism for emotion induction, a cognitive appraisal. Here, we present a novel theoretical framework featuring six additional mechanisms through which music listening may induce emotions: (1) brain stem reflexes, (2) evaluative conditioning, (3) emotional contagion, (4) visual imagery, (5) episodic memory, and (6) musical expectancy. We propose that these mechanisms differ regarding such characteristics as their information focus, ontogenetic development, key brain regions, cultural impact, induction speed, degree of volitional influence, modularity, and dependence on musical structure. By synthesizing theory and findings from different domains, we are able to provide the first set of hypotheses that can help researchers to distinguish among the mechanisms. We show that failure to control for the underlying mechanism may lead to inconsistent or non-interpretable findings. Thus, we argue that the new framework may guide future research and help to resolve previous disagreements in the field. We conclude that music evokes emotions through mechanisms that are not unique to music, and that the study of musical emotions could benefit the emotion field as a whole by providing novel paradigms for emotion induction.
Patrik N. Juslin is Associate Professor of Psychology at Uppsala University, Sweden, where he teaches courses on music, emotion, perception, and research methodology. He completed his Ph.D. in 1998 under the supervision of Alf Gabrielsson. Juslin has published numerous articles in the areas of expression in music performance, emotional responses to music, music education, and emotion in speech. In 2001, he edited the volume Music and Emotion: Theory and Research together with John Sloboda. Juslin and Sloboda are currently editing a handbook on music and emotion. Juslin is a member of the International Society for Research on Emotions. Alongside his work as a researcher, he has worked professionally as a guitar player.
Daniel Västfjäll is a Research Scientist at Decision Research, Eugene, Oregon, U.S.A., and Assistant Professor of Psychology and Psychoacoustics at Göteborg University and Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden. His educational history includes Ph.D.'s in both Psychology and Acoustics. His research focuses on the role of emotion in judgment, perception, and psychophysics. A common theme for his research is how emotion serves as information for judgments about objects, the self, and health. His current research focus is on the relationship between music and emotion, particularly on how acoustic parameters contribute to emotional responses. Vä stfjä ll is currently heading research projects on the link between music and health and on the psychoacoustics of musical emotion.