A new study reveals how the brain responds differently to different types of music, and reports that males who process negative emotions with music often have negative reactions to aggressive or sad music.
Mental health is affected by emotion regulation, and poor emotion regulation has been linked to psychiatric mood disorders including depression. Music therapists are aware of this, and use music as a tool to assist patients in reaching a better mood state and relieve symptoms of psychiatric mood disorders, like depression. However, some people use music in their own way to regulate emotions. Researchers at the University of Jyväskylä, Aalto University in Finland and Aarhus University in Denmark have conducted an investigation into the relationship between mental health, music listening habits and neural responses to music emotions through a behavioural and neuro-imaging study.
Some ways of coping with negative emotion, such as rumination, which means continually thinking over negative things, are linked to poor mental health.
We wanted to learn whether there could be similar negative effects of some styles of music listening, explains Emily Carlson, a music therapist and the main author of the study.
Participants were assessed using several measures of mental health including depression, anxiety and neuroticism, in conjunction with what style, frequency and how they listen to music to regulate their emotions. Findings indicate that the participants who had a tendency to listen to sad or aggressive music had higher measures of anxiety and neuroticism, especially in males.
To investigate the brain’s unconscious emotion regulation processes, the researchers recorded the participants’ neural activity as they listened to clips of happy, sad and fearful-sounding music using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at the AMI Center of Aalto University. Analysis showed that males who tended to listen to music to express negative feelings had less activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC).
In females who tended to listen to music to distract from negative feelings, however, there was increased activity in the mPFC. “The mPFC is active during emotion regulation,” according to prof. Elvira Brattico, the senior author of the study. “These results show a link between music listening styles and mPFC activation, which could mean that certain listening styles have long-term effects on the brain.”
The researchers involved in the study are aiming to increase awareness of how different types of music can be used for mood regulation and hope to encourage music therapists to discuss with their clients the impact of music, not just within sessions but outside of them as well. The researchers also aim for a more wide-spread impact, and encourage everyone to consider the impact of music on mood, and how best to harness it to promote positive wellbeing.