who are more accurate at reading another person’s emotions are better
able to understand what a musician is trying to convey through their
compositions. Additionally, those with higher empathetic accuracy are
better able to feel the emotions conveyed through music.
Source:Southern Methodist University
people who understand the emotions of others better interpret emotions
conveyed through music? A new study by an international team of
researchers suggests the abilities are linked.
study’s results provide a foundation for future research that could
test the impact of socially engaged music listening on social cognitive
ability, and whether listening to music can be added to therapeutic
techniques used in social skills training for individuals with autism
spectrum disorders or schizophrenia.
The findings were published recently in Emotion.
study was led by Benjamin A. Tabak, assistant professor of psychology
and director of the Social and Clinical Neuroscience Lab (SCN) at SMU
(Southern Methodist University) and Zachary Wallmark, assistant
professor of musicology and affiliated faculty at the Center for
Translational Neuroscience at the University of Oregon.
is most often thought of in the context of social interactions, but
there are many other forms of social communication, including music,”
Tabak said. “Music can convey meaning and emotion and also elicit
emotional responses, but the mechanisms responsible for its emotional
power are poorly understood.”
and his colleagues wanted to test their theory about empathy and music.
For the purposes of this study, they measured the ability to correctly
understand others’ thoughts and feelings (empathic accuracy) and the
extent to which one feels the emotions that another feels (affect
thought it would be interesting to study whether people who more
accurately understand others’ thoughts and feelings might also be more
accurate in understanding what musicians are intending to convey through
music,” Tabak said. “Similarly, we wanted to know whether people who
tend to feel the emotions that others are experiencing also tend to feel
the emotions conveyed through music.”
initial set of findings found support for both hypotheses. In
particular, the results suggest that empathic accuracy as a skill
extends beyond interpersonal interactions into music. Researchers hope
these results will provide a foundation for future studies regarding the
impact active, engaged music listening may have on improving social
and Wallmark believe that the study provides tentative support for the
theory that music is first and foremost a social behavior that evolved
to help individuals connect with others and better understand and manage
their social environment.
matters on several levels, including the potential to develop new
music-based interventions that may assist individuals with difficulties
in understanding how others think and feel,” Tabak added.
pointed to the interdisciplinary approach he and his colleagues used
during their study as a template for future research projects in this
area. In addition to Tabak and Wallmark, whose scholarly work falls in
psychology and musicology, respectively, the research team also included
two statisticians and another psychologist with expertise in social
cognition in schizophrenia.
we came up with this idea several years ago at a coffee shop in Dallas,
researchers had only conducted studies that indirectly addressed these
research questions, few of the previous studies had included large
samples, and none had included a replication study,” Tabak said.
also hope that our work will highlight the value of conducting
interdisciplinary research that spans the sciences and humanities,” he
like this, that takes a well-known psychological construct like empathy
and examines it in an unconventional way by asking what people think a
musical composer is trying to convey through a piece of music, might
propel others to ‘think outside of the box’ and ultimately gain a
greater understanding of a process though interdisciplinary
collaboration,” he said.