Chills and Aggression: Study Explores Responses to Aversive Music



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Overview: For some people, listening to “aversive” music can trigger aggressive behavior and primitive fight-or-flight responses, a new study reports.

Source: University of Jyväskylä

The positive effects and satisfaction created by listening to music are often emphasized in people’s everyday experiences and in music psychological research. However, not all feelings aroused by music are pleasurable.

A joint study between researchers from the universities of Jyväskylä and Oslo examined listening to aversive music. To date, only a few studies have addressed this topic.

A recent study published in the journal Psychology of music looks at people’s reported experiences of listening to aversive music. The study involved 102 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 65. The respondents included both musicians and non-musicians.

An analysis of the open descriptions revealed two types of listeners: those with a strongly negative attitude towards unpleasant music and those with a more neutral attitude. The data show that the strong negative attitude was the result of unpleasant feelings and physical reactions caused by the music, the listener’s autobiographical aspects regarding identity, social values ​​and aesthetic preferences, as well as the listening context.

In some people, hearing aversive music can even evoke outright hatred and aggressive behavior, which in the worst cases is directed at other people, or alternatively such music evokes a fight-or-flight response to the situation in which it was played.

“While research points to an undeniable positive potential for music, we have little knowledge of its negative effects,” said the study’s lead researcher, assistant professor of musicology Henna-Riikka Peltola of the University of Jyväskylä.

For some people, hearing aversive music can even evoke outright hatred and aggressive behavior, which in the worst case scenario is directed at other people, or alternatively such music evokes a fight-or-flight response to the situation in which it was played. Image is in the public domain

“Indeed, for some listeners, music can trigger a pretty primitive fight-or-flight response,” Peltola says. “The most interesting results of our study, besides the negative feelings, were the associations of such feelings with people’s behavior. Many respondents also indicated that they were a little ashamed of their strong reactions to something as seemingly innocuous as music.

“This may indicate that in our society music is automatically perceived as something that is entertaining and enjoyable, and so other types of experiences may be viewed as exceptional or somehow wrong.”

According to the researchers, the possible negative effects of listening to music should therefore be explored more extensively in future research. Positive emotional experiences and the beneficial potential of music are based on the listener’s own listening choice and aesthetic preferences. Similar benefits cannot be achieved by listening to any music as the effects can be totally opposite.

“Exposure to music in public places, for example,” says Peltola, “can trigger really strong aversion and stress responses in some people, which doesn’t increase their well-being in any way.”

About this research news about music and psychology

Writer: press office
Source: University of Jyväskylä
Contact: Press Office – University of Jyväskylä
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original research: Closed access.
“I hate this part here”: embodied subjective experiences of listening to aversive music” by Henna-Riikka Peltola et al. Psychology of music


Abstract

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“I hate this part here”: embodied subjective experiences of listening to aversive music

While the majority of previous research on music-induced responses has focused on pleasurable experiences and preferences, there is no denying that music can also elicit strong aversions and aversions. To date, only limited research has been done to understand the subjective experience of listening to aversive music.

This qualitative study examined people’s negative experiences with listening to music, with the aim of understanding what types of emotions, affective states, and physical reactions are associated with listening to aversive music.

One hundred and two participants provided free descriptions of (1) musical characteristics of aversive music; (2) subjective physical sensations, thoughts and mental images evoked by aversive music; (3) typical contexts where aversive music is heard; and (4) the similarities and/or differences between music-related aversive experiences and experiences of aversion in other contexts.

We found that responses to aversive music are characterized by embodied experiences, perceived loss of agency and violation of musical identity, as well as social or moral attitudes and values. Furthermore, two ‘perceived types’ were identified: one reflects a strongly negative attitude towards unpleasant music and the other reflects a more neutral attitude.

Finally, we discuss the theoretical implications of our findings in the broader context of music and emotion research.

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