Straying From Neutral Emotional Responses to Music

It is possible that we may not feel anything when we listen to a song. Music does not arouse an emotional response at all times (Juslin & Laukka, 2004). When thinking about what music arouses a strong emotional response, think about buying a concert ticket.

When you buy that ticket, you have a target of hearing particular songs. Have you ever attended a concert and the artist, or band, started playing a new song that you have never heard before? Compare and contrast the crowd response to the new song versus the song that the crowd is familiar with.

The most recent concert I attended was the Alejandro Sanz concert in October of this year. My twin sister bought me a ticket as an early Christmas present (thank you!), and we definitely attended to hear this song:

We were sitting next to a Latin woman and her boyfriend. Mind you, we are not Latin, we are Filipino. When Alejandro Sanz closed his concert with Corazón Partió and we heard those opening notes, we screamed our lungs out with her. Then we yelled the whole song out loud together. A complete stranger – but for those few minutes, we were the best of friends.

To me, that illustrates the difference between hearing a familiar song and a novel song. When conducting experiments, it could be the difference between a self-selected song and an experimenter-selected song.

There is music that an individual has repeated, so that the individual memorizes every word or event in the song. In this process, the song can become personally relevant and meaningful. It can also be tied to the individual’s life experience. Memories that are less susceptible to brain damage are memories that are rehearsed more (De Simone et al., 2016). Perhaps listening to songs repeatedly contributes to the rehearsal of particular memories. This may make these memories stronger in the mind.

When thinking about connecting others to their own biographies, epochs, ages, time periods, and treasured moments through music, cogitate on them being there once again. This person’s footprints have scaled the decades. This person has encountered friends, faced trials, laughed, cried, failed, and succeeded.

Music tells the story of our footprints, the highs and the lows. In the case of using music to activate memory, I think we do want to stray from the neutral emotional responses to music. In my view, we want them to feel strongly, so that they can remember.


De Simone, M. S., Fadda, L., Perri, R., Aloisi, M., Caltagirone, C., & Carlesimo, G. A. (2016). Does retrieval frequency account for the pattern of autobiographical memory loss in early Alzheimer’s disease patients?. Neuropsychologia80, 194-200.

Juslin, P. N., & Laukka, P. (2004).  Expression, perception, and induction of musical emotions: A review and a questionnaire study of everyday listening. Journal of New Music Research33(3), 217-238.

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