Music and dementia: individual differences in response to personalized playlists

Abstract courtesy of Neuromusic News, Fondazione Mariani

Music and dementia: individual differences in response to personalized playlists
Journal of Alzheimers Disease 2018 Jun 23

Garrido S, Stevens CJ, Chang E, Dunne L, Perz J
MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour & Development, Western Sydney University, Sydney, Australia

Personalized music playlists are increasingly being used in health-care contexts to address the psychological and behavioral symptoms in people with dementia. However, there is little understanding of how people with different mental health histories and symptoms respond differently to music. A factorial experiment was conducted to investigate the influence of depression, anxiety, apathy, and cognitive decline on affective response to music. Ninety-nine people with dementia listened to three music playlists based on personal preferences. Activation of facial action units and behavioral observation were measured continuously. Results demonstrated that people with high levels of depression and with symptoms of Alzheimer’s type dementia demonstrated increased levels of sadness when listening to music. People with low depression but high levels of apathy demonstrated the highest behavioral evidence of pleasure during music listening, although behavioral evidence declined with severity of cognitive decline. It is concluded that as well as accounting for personal preferences, music interventions for people with dementia need to take mental health history and symptoms into account.

And for our Italian friends:

Una playlist di musica personalizzata è un metodo sempre più utilizzato nei contesti di cura per risolvere problemi di natura psicologica o comportamentale in persone con demenza. Tuttavia, non è chiaro come persone con differenti storie di malattia mentale rispondano in modo diverso alla musica. È stato condotto un esperimento fattoriale per investigare il ruolo della depressione, dell’ansia, dell’apatia e del declino cognitivo nella risposta emotiva alla musica. 99 soggetti affetti da demenza sono stati esposti all’ascolto di tre diverse playlist musicali basate sulle preferenze personali. L’attivazione di unità di azione facciale e l’osservazione comportamentale sono state misurate di continuo. I risultati evidenziano che le persone con alti livelli di depressione e con segni tipici della demenza di Alzheimer mostravano un incremento dei segni di tristezza quando ascoltavano la musica. Le persone con basso punteggio di depressione, ma con alto livello di apatia mostravano la più significativa evidenza di piacere durante l’ascolto della musica, sebbene gli indici comportamentali declinassero con l’aumento del declino cognitivo. Gli Autori concludono che, oltre a considerare le preferenze personali, gli interventi musicali per i pazienti affetti da Alzheimer debbano tenere in considerazione anche la loro storia clinica e i sintomi.

Full article access

DOI: 10.3233/JAD-180084
Journal: Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, vol. 64, no. 3, pp. 933-941, 2018


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

Help Fund My Thesis Research in Music, Mind, and the Brain

1511649_10100770379146070_1472478529_oHello all! Sincerest apologies for the severe lack of content over the past year or so. I have been tucked away studying music and psychology at UCSD, and who knew: grad school can be time-consuming! Luckily, I’m unwaveringly passionate about what I have been privileged to research, and I’ve enjoyed…well, many moments 🙂

To come to the point, I’d like to ask a bit of support in order to finish my thesis. In 2011, I received generous support from you all to attend my first conference surrounding music and the brain. Five years later, I find myself again in need of assistance to conduct research in my field. This time, however, your help will fund the final steps for completion of my thesis: broadly approaching how music might be used to combat and intervene in young people who struggle with self-destructive behavior. I have an immense faith in music’s capacity to heal, transform, and even save lives.

Taking place in 3 weeks, I have been invited to participate and present my research in the UK in Epigenesis and Philosophy: A Workshop on the Work of Catherine Malabou. This event brings together scholars in both the humanities and natural sciences. We will engage in critical discussion regarding our work in tandem with the work of the aforementioned French philosopher widely known for her ideas which merge philosophy, neuroscience, and psychoanalysis. Some of you may recall my enthusiasm for her work on plasticity as the catalyst for my decision to pursue graduate studies in how music may be used as a healing tool. I have since been lucky enough to converse with Catherine on a number of occasions, and she remains a primary source of inspiration and critical analysis in the wake of her timely question “What Should We Do With Our Brain?”

As a graduate student, I have been obscenely blessed with a fellowship that allows me to study in a wonderful program. Last year, I was awarded graduate travel stipends that allowed me to present my work locally and abroad. Unfortunately, the financial situation in my department is quite different this year, and it seems what few resources were available have been exhausted. Participation in the upcoming workshop would be a tremendous aid in research for the thesis (which must be completed by May of this year for graduation in June). The budget including air travel, ground transportation, food and lodging comes to around $1,700. 

Funding this vital research not only supports completion of my graduate thesis — it furthers investigation of the transformative healing, powers I believe music can have on the mind. Please consider joining others who have donated here and help us make the largest impact possible.

Give to this research


For information on the types of research I do, please feel free to contact me at or visit any of the sites below:

Abstract – Recovering the Voice Through Sonic Gesture: Contending the Annihilation of Self

Paper – Heavy and Light: Uncovering resilience and positive affect in extreme music

As The Spirit Wanes, or The Hope of Plasticity

Thank you so much for your support!




Note: Pathways in Music is going to go ahead and vehemently endorse this conference. 

CALL FOR PAPERS – DEADLINE: October 20, 2015 12 noon GMT


December 3-4, 2015 • Odense, Denmark

The Performances of Everyday Living Dept. for the Study of Culture, University of Southern Denmark (SDU) at Odense with the support of The Danish Council for Independent Research | Humanities

Keynote speakers: Rikke Platz Cortsen, University of Copenhagen, Denmark • Theodore Gracyk, Minnesota State University Moorhead, USA • Keith Kahn-Harris, Birkbeck College and Leo Baeck College, UK • Imke von Helden, University of KoblenzLandau, Germany • Florian Heesch, University of Siegen, Germany • Toni-Matti Karjalainen, Aalto University, Finland • Tore Tvarnø Lind, University of Copenhagen, Denmark • Karl Spracklen, Leeds Beckett University, UK.

The research program The Performances of Everyday Living at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) at Odense is pleased to invite paper submissions for presentation at MIND OVER METAL: METAL MUSIC AND CULTURE FROM A CROSS-DISCIPLINARY PERSPECTIVE, December 3-4, 2015 at SDU in Odense, Denmark. We welcome research presentations that examine metal music and culture from the perspectives of philosophy, musicology, marketing, media studies, medicine, acoustics, theology, literary studies, music pedagogy, semiotics, sociology, linguistics, religious studies, anthropology, psychology, biology, education studies, music therapy, performance studies and culture studies. Exemplification by means of audio-visual material is most welcome. The time allotted per paper will be 30 minutes for presentation and 15 minute for discussion; each speaker will thus be accorded 45 minutes including discussion. An abstract of minimum 350 words/maximum 400 words should be submitted to with “Paper submission for Mind over Metal” on the subject line no later than 12 noon GMT on October 20, 2015. Each abstract submitted will receive double-blind peer review, and you will receive notification of whether or not your paper has been accepted for presentation by 12 noon GMT on October 27, 2015. Papers presented at the conference will be afforded the opportunity for publication in a special issue of JMM: The Journal of Music and Meaning, provided they pass the double-blind peer review process employed by JMM. JMM is an international peer-reviewed academic online journal published from the Study of Culture at SDU with the support of The Danish Council for Independent Research | Humanities. Portions – perhaps all – of the conference – will be streamed live online. Attendance at the conference is free; there is no conference fee. All who receive notice that their papers have been accepted for presentation are asked to confirm participation no later than November 1.

We request that all who wish to come to SDU on December 3 and 4 simply to attend the conference (without presenting a paper) register no later than November 19, 2015 by sending an email marked “Registration” to Information about lodgings, eating establishments and other practical facilities in Odense, as well as updates regarding the conference in general will be available at

A poster is available at