ICMPC Poster: Musical Intensity in Affect Regulaton: Interventons in Self-Harming Behavior

In partial fulfillment of my graduate thesis, this poster represents the findings of my study conducted at the University of California, San Diego. Presented July 5, 2016 at the 14th International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition in San Francisco.

For full study, see chapter 2 of my thesis.

For PDF, see HERELD poster ICMPC.


Prior research associates listening to heavy music with reduced suicide risk, especially among teenage girls when utilized for vicarious release. Nevertheless, few studies consider the active use of heavy music in self-regulation for those who suffer from thoughts of self-harm and/or mental illness. In order to to better understand the mechanisms by which engaging with heavy and intense music may circumvent self-harming behavior, a pilot study is presented of 283 subjects. The majority of those surveyed report suffering from thoughts of self-harm or mental disorders. To examine the use of affect regulation via both generic (non-specified) and heavy, intense, and highly emotive music, we created the Music in Affect Regulation Questionnaire (MARQ), utilizing music in mood regulation (MMR) strategies from the work of Saarikallio. We identify heavy music by the presence of capacious, distorted riffs; loud, pervasive percussion; or an overall feeling of ‘raw power,’ emotion, and affective intensity stemming from the instrumental or vocal parts. Our findings collectively show that heavy music listeners (and those who have thoughts of self-harm, in particular) interact with definitively heavy, intense, or highly emotive music differently than with generic music, especially in the use of modulating negative mood. These findings seem less related to genre-specific categories than certain musical commonalities collectively understood as intensity, and provide significant evidence for heavy music’s ability to circumvent self-destructive impulses, especially when applied in tandem with specific listening strategies of affect-regulation. Additional evidence from prior case studies further suggests the value of deeper investigation of the conscientious use of heavy music as a potential intervention for those suffering from affect dysregulation and self-harm.


Musical Intensity in Affect Regulaton: Interventons in Self-Harming Behavior

Chill-inducing music enhances altruism in humans

Chill-inducing music enhances altruism in humans                                                                                                                                       Frontiers in Psychology, published online October 2014

Fukui H, Toyoshima
Faculty of Education, Nara University of Education, Nara, Japan

Music is a universal feature of human cultures, and it has both fascinated and troubled many researchers. In this paper we show through the dictator game (DG) that an individual’s listening to preferred “chill-inducing” music may promote altruistic behavior that extends beyond the bounds of kin selection or reciprocal altruism. Participants were 22 undergraduate and postgraduate students who were divided into two groups, the in-group and the out-group, and they acted as dictators. The dictators listened to their own preferred “chill-inducing” music, to music they disliked, or to silence, and then played the DG. In this hypothetical experiment, the dictators were given real money (which they did not keep) and were asked to distribute it to the recipients, who were presented as stylized images of men and women displayed on a computer screen. The dictators played the DG both before and after listening to the music. Both male and female dictators gave more money after listening to their preferred music and less after listening to the music they disliked, whereas silence had no effect on the allocated amounts. The group to which the recipient belonged did not influence these trends. The results suggest that listening to preferred “chill-inducing” music promotes altruistic behavior.


Table 1 – Mean allocation of each stimuli.

And for our Italian friends:

La musica è una caratteristica universale tra gli esseri umani, che da anni affascina e intriga i ricercatori. In questo studio i ricercatori dimostrano, attraverso il gioco del dittatore (DG), che quando un individuo ascolta la sua musica preferita, quella che induce i brividi, viene spinto verso comportamenti altruistici che vanno al di là del clan di appartenenza o dell’altruismo reciproco. Hanno partecipato allo studio 22 giovani tra studenti e laureati divisi in due gruppi, il gruppo “interno” e il gruppo “esterno”, e agivano da dittatori. I dittatori ascoltavano musica di loro gradimento o musica che non gradivano, oppure silenzio, prima di agire da dittatori. In questo esperimento ai dittatori veniva dato denaro reale che non potevano però tenere, ma che dovevano distribuire ai riceventi, presentati come immagini stilizzate di uomini e donne sullo schermo di un computer. I dittatori giocavano al DG sia prima sia dopo avere ascolto la musica. Sia i dittatori uomini che donne elargivano più denaro dopo avere ascoltato la loro musica preferita e meno dopo avere ascoltato musica sgradita, mentre il silenzio non aveva alcun effetto sulle somme che venivano allocate. Il gruppo al quale il ricevente apparteneva non influenzava questo trend. Gli Autori concludono che l’ascolto della musica preferita incoraggia comportamenti altruistici.

Fukui, H., & Toyoshima, K. (2014). Chill-inducing music enhances altruism in humans. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1215. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01215

For complete article, please see Frontiers in Psychology.

Editorial note: The views of the following statement contained in the full article, As is widely known, music has the ability to strongly affect a person’s emotions and sometimes even control them (Juslin and Sloboda, 2010),” does not necessarily represent the views of Pathways in Music.

Personal preferred ‘chill-inducing’ moment, in total recollection, occurs in the following piece, 3:32

The Paradox of Music-Evoked Sadness: A Survey of Personality and Reward

The paradox of music-evoked sadness: an online survey

Taruffi L, Koelsch S – Published October 20, 2014

Department of Educational Sciences & Psychology and Cluster of Excellence, “Languages of Emotion”, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany

This study explores listeners’ experience of music-evoked sadness. Sadness is typically assumed to be undesirable and is therefore usually avoided in everyday life. Yet the question remains: Why do people seek and appreciate sadness in music? We present findings from an online survey with both Western and Eastern participants (N?=?772). The survey investigates the rewarding aspects of music-evoked sadness, as well as the relative contribution of listener characteristics and situational factors to the appreciation of sad music. The survey also examines the different principles through which sadness is evoked by music, and their interaction with personality traits.

Results show 4 different rewards of music-evoked sadness: reward of imagination, emotion regulation, empathy, and no “real-life” implications. Moreover, appreciation of sad music follows a mood-congruent fashion and is greater among individuals with high empathy and low emotional stability. Surprisingly, nostalgia rather than sadness is the most frequent emotion evoked by sad music. Correspondingly, memory was rated as the most important principle through which sadness is evoked. Finally, the trait empathy contributes to the evocation of sadness via contagion, appraisal, and by engaging social functions.

The present findings indicate that emotional responses to sad music are multifaceted, are modulated by empathy, and are linked with a multidimensional experience of pleasure. These results were corroborated by a follow-up survey on happy music, which indicated differences between the emotional experiences resulting from listening to sad versus happy music. This is the first comprehensive survey of music-evoked sadness, revealing that listening to sad music can lead to beneficial emotional effects such as regulation of negative emotion and mood as well as consolation. Such beneficial emotional effects constitute the prime motivations for engaging with sad music in everyday life.

TABLE 2: Summary of the situations in which participants engage with sad music, and functions of listening to sad music in those circumstances.

TABLE 2: Summary of the situations in which participants engage with sad music, and functions of listening to sad music in those circumstances.

TABLE 6: Summary of the situations in which participants engage with happy music and functions of listening to happy music in those circumstances.

TABLE 6: Summary of the situations in which participants engage with happy music and functions of listening to happy music in those circumstances.


And for our Italian friends:

Questo studio esplora l’esperienza della tristezza indotta dall’ascolto della musica. La tristezza è comunemente considerata un’emozione negativa e pertanto evitata nella vita quotidiana. Rimane una questione aperta: perché quindi le persone apprezzano la musica triste? Gli Autori presentano i risultati di uno studio condotto online che ha coinvolto 722 partecipanti occidentali e orientali. Lo studio indaga gli effetti gratificanti delle emozioni tristi evocate dalla musica, nonché l’apporto relativo alle caratteristiche dell’ascoltatore e alle situazioni che contribuiscono all’apprezzamento della musica triste. Lo studio esamina inoltre i differenti principi attraverso i quali la tristezza viene evocata dalla musica e la sua interazione con i tratti della personalità.

I risultati mostrano quattro diversi aspetti gratificanti della musica triste: l’effetto dell’immaginazione, la regolazione delle emozioni, l’empatia e l’assenza di implicazioni nella vita reale. Inoltre, l’apprezzamento della musica triste segue una modalità congruente con l’umore ed è più grande tra gli individui con maggiore empatia e minore stabilità emotiva. Sorprendentemente la nostalgia piuttosto che la tristezza è l’emozione più frequente evocata dalla musica triste. Di conseguenza, la memoria è stata valutata come il principio più importante attraverso il quale l’emozione viene evocata dalla musica triste. Infine, il tratto di empatia contribuisce all’evocazione della tristezza attraverso il contagio, l’apprezzamento e il coinvolgimento delle funzioni sociali. I presenti risultati indicano che la risposta emotiva alla musica triste è sfaccettata, modulata dall’empatia e collegata a una esperienza multidimensionale del piacere.

Questi risultati sono stati corroborati da una ricerca successiva sulla musica allegra, che mostra differenze tra le esperienze emotive nell’ascolto di musica felice o triste. Questo è il primo studio comprensivo sulla tristezza evocata dalla musica, e rivela che l’ascolto della musica triste può portare benefici emotivi come la regolazione delle emozioni negative e dell’umore, oltre che della consolazione. Questi benefici emozionali costituiscono una ragione per ascoltare la musica triste durante la vita quotidiana.

Information provided by abstract – full study may be found here.


(My favorite ‘sad’ video of all time below).

CALL FOR PAPERS – 13th Annual Auditory Perception, Cognition and Action Meeting (Long Beach)

APCAM 2014 Call for Papers

The 13th Annual Auditory Perception, Cognition and Action Meeting (APCAM 2014) will be held on Thursday, November 20 (at the Hyatt Regency Long Beach Hotel) in Long Beach, California. APCAM is a one-day satellite meeting affiliated with the annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society. The goal of APCAM is to bring together researchers from various theoretical perspectives to present focused research on auditory cognition, perception, and aurally guided action. APCAM is a unique meeting in its exclusive focus on the perceptual, cognitive, and behavioral aspects of audition. Another unique aspect of APCAM is that it recently has become a FREE EVENT FOR ALL ATTENDEES.

The Organizing Committee welcomes not only empirical, but also general theoretical and methodological submissions on a variety of auditory topics, including (but not limited to) the following areas:

Localization, motion perception, and spatial cognition
Object, event, and pattern perception
Aurally guided action and navigation
Auditory scene analysis
Timing and attention
Pitch, loudness, and timbre perception
Music perception, cognition, and performance
Comparative auditory processing
Behavioral neuroscience
Memory and source identification

Submissions should include an abstract of 300 words or less, the title of the proposed presentation, names and institutional affiliation information for all contributing authors as they should appear in the conference program, as well as e-mail contact information for the primary/submitting author. Abstracts should be submitted online by following the Submit link on the APCAM website (www.apcam.us); this submission portal is expected to become active prior to the end of June. Authors also can communicate directly about submissions with the Chair of the Organizing Committee at hallmd@jmu.edu.

Each submission also should indicate whether there is a preference for an oral or poster presentation. The committee will make every effort to accommodate presentation preferences, though it may not be possible to honor all requests. Given the limited number of oral presentations, authors traditionally have only been permitted a single oral presentation. If there are more accepted abstracts with an oral presentation preference than there are available presentation slots, preference will be given to papers judged to represent the strongest contributions, as well as to participants who did not deliver an oral presentation at the immediately preceding APCAM.

Additionally, the Organizing Committee welcomes proposals representing either a cluster of 3-4 related abstracts or a possible (45- to 60-minute) panel discussion on a unified topic. Related abstracts can be submitted separately, along with a separate abstract (still 300 words or less) from the coordinating author. Proposals for panel discussions will only require this latter type of abstract. The abstract from the coordinating author should indicate the motivation for, and the nature of, the proposed session, including a brief overview of the fundamental issue(s) that it hopes to address. A listing of contributing authors for the session also should be provided, along with a brief statement about what each author will discuss. Such abstracts are expected to be included in the printed program if a proposal is accepted. Preference will be given to proposed sessions that cut across research domains and that have important theoretical implications and/or practical applications. Additionally, panelists for proposed sessions should be selected based upon their areas of expertise, and thus their ability to actively contribute to the discussion. Panel discussions should be designed to allow for at least 10-15 minutes of questions/participation from the audience either at the end of the session or interspersed throughout the panel discussion.

The deadline for submission of abstracts and all program proposals is October 1. While this traditional deadline is very close to the conference date, all authors are expected to be notified about the status of their submission very rapidly after the submission deadline. Travel and reservation information can be located through the APCAM website (www.apcam.us), which includes a link to details found on the Psychonomic Society site (http://www.psychonomic.org/general-information).

If you are interested in attending APCAM, but do not anticipate being a contributing author, then you can register simply by sending a brief e-mail that includes your name and affiliation to hallmd@jmu.edu. Contributing authors will be registered automatically, but are asked to indicate at the time of submission which authors are expected to attend the meeting.

Amelioration of psychiatric symptoms through exposure to music individually adapted to brain rhythm disorders – a randomised clinical trial on the basis of fundamental research

From  Cogn Neuropsychiatry January 24 2014 

Wolf MülleraGünter HaffelderbAngelika Schlotmannc,Andrea T.U. Schaefersd & Gertraud Teuchert-Noodt*d

This pilot study examined, whether long-term exposure of psychiatric patients to music that was individually adapted to brain rhythm disorders associated with psychoticism could act to ameliorate psychiatric symptoms. A total of 50 patients with various psychiatric diagnoses were randomised in a 1:1 ratio to listen to CDs containing either music adapted to brain rhythm anomalies associated with psychoticism – measured via a specific spectral analysis – or standard classical music. Participants were instructed to listen to the CDs over the next 18 months. Psychiatric symptoms in both groups were assessed at baseline and at 4, 8 and 18 months, using the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI). At 18 months, patients in the experimental group showed significantly decreased BSI scores compared to control patients. Intriguingly, this effect was not only seen for symptoms of psychoticism and paranoia but also for anxiety, phobic anxiety and somatisation. Exposure to the adapted music was effective in ameliorating psychotic, anxiety and phobic anxiety symptoms. Based on the theories of neuroplasticity and brain rhythms, it can be hypothesised that this intervention may be enhancing brain-rhythm synchronisation and plasticity in prefrontal-hippocampal circuits that are implicated in both psychosis/paranoia and anxiety/phobic anxiety.

Per gli Italiani:

Questo studio pilota esamina se l’esposizione a lungo termine di pazienti psichiatrici alla musica, adattata ai disordini del ritmo cerebrale associati con la psicosi, possa servire a migliorare i sintomi psichiatrici. Cinquanta pazienti con diagnosi psichiatriche di vario tipo sono stati assegnati in modo randomizzato a due gruppi e sottoposti a due condizioni sperimentali. Un gruppo ascoltava CD contenenti musica adattata alle anomalie cerebrali associate con la psicosi (misurate con analisi spettrale specifica), mentre l’altro ascoltava musica classica standard. Ai partecipanti è stato chiesto di ascoltare la musica per i successivi 18 mesi. I sintomi psichiatrici sono stati indagati in entrambi i gruppi prima dello studio e dopo 4, 8 e 18 mesi usando il test Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI). Dopo 18 mesi, i pazienti del gruppo sperimentale mostravano un punteggio BSI significativamente diminuito rispetto ai soggetti di controllo. Interessante osservare che questa diminuzione non è stata riscontrata solo per sintomi di psicosi e paranoia, ma anche per l’ansia, le fobie e la somatizzazione. Basandosi sulle teorie di neuroplasticità e dei ritmi cerebrali, gli Autori ipotizzano che questo intervento possa aumentare la sincronizzazione dei ritmi cerebrali e la plasticità dei circuiti prefrontali-ippocampali coinvolti sia nella paranoia, sia nella psicosi/paranoia, sia nell’ansia/fobia.

Music, Mind and Meaning Conference at the Peabody Institute– Day 1 Recap

IMG_9755 Music, Mind and Meaning Conference – Day 1

Apart from the seventy (yes, seventy) degree temperature shock going from Los Angeles to Baltimore, I had a wonderful evening at the opening of the Music, Mind and Meaning conference at the Peabody Institute. The evening began with rousing introductions all around, and I was wonderfully honored to finally meet some of my favorite scholars face to face.

At 7pm, Dr. David Huron took the floor for the keynote address. In his talk, “Emotions and Meanings in Music, he posed the question, “In what ways can music convey meaning?” Songs have lyrics, works have evocative titles, but most of music’s meaning comes from other sources including:

  • Cultural schemas
  • Learned expectations
  • Personal associations

In his over sixty minute presentation, Huron covered everything from how musical associations become universal cultural icons, to the psychoacoustics of intimacy (which contained brilliant perspectives I had never visualized), to an explicitly detailed account of how ethologists differentiate between signals versus cues, and what we can take from learning about hostile versus friendly behavior in animals to musical studies. Since my arrival, I’ve listened to one out of nine lectures, and am, at present, blown away. Let’s just say this: you know it’s good when you have world-class academics on either side murmuring in awe at what is being presented. I look very forward to recounting the full presentation when time permits.

Following Dr. Huron’s talk, a duo took the stage like I haven’t quite seen before. I’d venture it’s not uncommon, but when Grammy-nominated pianist and composer (and MacArthur genius fellowship recipient) Vijay Iyer improvises a single-song performance – for thirty-five minutes nonstop – one listens. Joined by Gary Thomas (Director of Jazz Studies, Peabody) on the saxophone followed by flute, the enigmatic chemistry that was created simply devoured the room like a thick trance. One of my favorite enigmas of the evening was simply glancing down the two rows of conference speakers to see who was bobbing side to side, or front to back; the eyes that were closed or engaged, or (my favorite) watching the woman who periodically plugged her ears as if to reimagine what she had just heard.

The evening closed with a reception lasting well past eleven in the Peabody library. Accompanied by a presentation of the exhibit from the personal collection of Eugene S. Flamm, the final talk included introducing some of the very oldest texts surrounding neurosurgery and the cradle of medicine known to exist. I look very forward to the continuance and development of the conference tomorrow morning.

Valproic Acid for Perfect Pitch? Steady, Now…

FDA_seizure_drug_DepakoteFor the past few days, the internet has been abuzz with the announcement of the “perfect pitch miracle drug.” Let’s back up a bit, shall we?

Valproic acid has been used alone or in addition to other medications for nearly fifty years to treat epilepsy, and is the active ingredient in drugs such as Valproate and Depakon. It is also used in the prevention of migraines, mania in bipolar disorder and for the treatment of aggression exhibited in children with ADHD. It is in the class of anticonvulsants. To talk a little bit about how it works, our brain is made up of thousands of nerve cells that communicate back and forth via electrical signal, a very intricate and delicate process that need maintain a steady and stable balance for normative functioning. When repetitive and abnormally rapid electrical signals are released, this process becomes disturbed and over stimulated. Anticonvulsants such as Valproate function as a stabilizer by increasing the amount of the natural nerve-calming chemical GABA, (gamma-Aminobutyric acid), as an HDAC (histone deacetlyase) inhibitor (Monti et al., 2009). GABA is one of the brain’s chief inhibitory neurotransmitters, which many researchers believe to regulate anxiety. When the amount of GABA in the brain falls too low, Valproate prevents the breakdown of the chemical and works to stabilize the amount of electrical activity, which explains why the drug has been found effective as a treatment for periods of mania and epileptic seizures.

Unfortunately, valproic acid is far from the ideal end-all. Valproate has been known to potentially cause serious or life threatening damage to the liver, pancreas, and blood cells, and holds an alarmingly high statistic for weight gain. It is not approved for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and has recently been the target of a lawsuit due to unforeseen birth defects. It is also known to cause ataxia, thrombocytopenia and leucopenia, so before we all go rushing off to “increase our brain function,” it might be wise to spend a moment thinking critically.

This morning, Tom Ashbrook of On Point, NPR stated “Imagine a pill that could rewire your brain. Would make your brain young again. Able to learn and absorb like a five-year old. Music. Languages. Would you take it?”  Neuroplasticity has risen to near-celebrity status over the past few months, and recent study by Frontiers of Systems Neuroscience is certainly fanning the flame. Carried out by researchers from France, Canada, Maryland, Australia, Massachusetts and England, the study set out to discover whether such periods when enzymes “impose ‘brakes’ on neuroplasticity, might be able to “reopen critical periods of neuroplasticity” via a drug that blocks productions of those enzymes. Absolute pitch was thought to be a solid assessment of this possibility because there are “no known cases of an adult acquiring absolute pitch.”

Absolute pitch (AP) is the ability to identify or produce the pitch of a musical sound without any reference point. Individuals who possess AP, constituting about 0.01% of the general population, are able to identify the pitch class, i.e., one of the 12 notes of the Western musical system, e.g., C, D, G#, of a sound with great accuracy (varying between 70–99%, depending on the task, as compared to 10–40% for non-AP individuals, Takeuchi and Hulse, 1993). The study explains:

“Importantly, acquiring AP has a critical period (Levitin and Zatorre, 2003; Russo et al., 2003). A critical period is a fixed window of time, usually early in an organism’s lifespan, during which experience has lasting effects on the development of brain function and behavior. The principles of critical period phenomena and neural plasticity are increasingly well understood both at the behavioral/experiential (Kleim and Jones, 2008) and at the molecular/cellular level (Hensch, 2005). Specifically, behaviorally induced plasticity in the healthy brain, typically after the end of the relevant critical period, can lead to improvement beyond normal or average performance levels. However, for many tasks, this requires targeted training—simple routine use is often insufficient. The factors known to influence the efficiency of such targeted training include the number of repetitions involved, the intensity of the training as well as the relevance or saliency of the stimuli or task trained. Importantly, such training-induced learning is quite specific to the trained task and to the underlying brain networks, although some transfer to other, related domains of knowledge or skills is sometimes possible. At the cellular level, critical periods close when maturational processes and experiential events converge to cause neuoro-physiological and molecular changes that dampen or eliminate the potential for further change (Hensch, 2005Bavelier et al., 2010), thus imposing “brakes” on neuroplasticity. One of the epigenetic changes leading to decreased plasticity after the critical period involves the action of HDAC, an enzyme that acts as an epigenetic “brake” on critical-period learning (Morishita and Hensch, 2008Qing et al., 2008). Research has shown that inhibition of HDAC can reopen critical-period neuroplasticity in adult mice to enable recovery from amblyopia (Putignano et al., 2007Silingardi et al., 2010), and to facilitate new forms of auditory learning (Yang et al., 2012).” (http://www.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnsys.2013.00102/full ).

The randomized, double blind study was conducted on twenty four men, half of which received Valproate and the other half, a placebo. The men who received Valproate showed advantage in pitch class identification. To come to the conclusion, it is imperative that we acknowledge the fact that these powerful pharmaceuticals were in no way developed for something so “trivial” of the acquisition of perfect pitch – the diagnostic simply was appropriate for a brief and extremely small study and subject pool. The researchers conclude:

If confirmed by future replications, our study will provide a behavioral paradigm for the assessment of the potential of psychiatric drugs to induce plasticity. In particular, the AP task may be useful as a behavioral correlate. If further studies continue to reveal specificity of VPA to the AP task (or to tasks on which training or intervention is provided), critical information will have been garnered concerning when systemic drug treatments may safely be used to reopen neural plasticity in a specific, targeted way.”

It is vital during this time of exponential and rapid advances in the realm of neuroscience that we keep the grounding measures of ethics and morality at the forefront of our minds. There is a reason performance enhancing drugs are strictly forbidden in competitive sports. While it is truly of great interest to deliberate over the implications of a drug altered to target neuroplasticity, with great power (all together now) comes great responsibility. 

Photo credit: http://sheller.com/practice-areas/practice-areas.php?title=Depakote-divalproex_sodium