Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Using music to express negative emotions increases neuroticism, researchers say

This is particularly the case among males.

Photo credit: D. Morrison / Express / Getty Image

Does listening to Elliott Smith when you're feeling down make you feel better or worse? The answer may depend on your gender. Scientists at Aalto University in Finland monitored brain activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), an area of the brain associated with emotional regulation. They found that when women listened to music to distract from negative feelings, there was an increase in activity in the mPFC. For men who were listening to the music to help them express their negative feelings, there was a decrease in activity in the mPFC.

In the study, which was published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in 2015, researchers found that using music as a way of expressing negative emotion led to an increase in anxiety and neuroticism in both genders — though, more predominantly in men. As someone who sets a soundtrack to match every mood, spending solid amounts of time curating the perfect playlist, I find it somewhat disheartening that my “sad" playlists are increasing my neuroticism. The scientists were interested in finding out whether ruminating with repetitive thoughts was similar to ruminating with music. Based on my own self-observations, I can see truth in their discovery — if I'm letting Lana del Rey, Philip Glass, or The Tallest Man on Earth reflect my emotions back to me, aren't they just confirming those emotions? And doesn't that confirmation lead to increasing the rumination? However, if I use music as a distraction, to say, “I hear you, but let's think about something else right now," and blast The Kinks or Diana Ross, then the act of distracting will stop the cycle of repetitive thoughts.

When women listened to music to distract from negative feelings, there was an increase in activity in the mPFC. For men who were listening to the music to help them express their negative feelings, there was a decrease in activity in the mPFC.

That's my experience as a female, and it's interesting to me that men are made even more anxious and neurotic by using music to express their negative emotions. The study doesn't offer an answer as to why that is, although it's probably a good thing Woody Allen is so into George Gershwin (if he listened to more aggressive music, I'm guessing he would become so neurotic he would just implode).

"These results show a link between music-listening styles and mPFC activation, which could mean that certain listening styles have long-term effects on the brain," said Elvira Brattico, senior author of the study. That's an encouraging discovery, because if we know in what ways music affects our brains and emotions, then we can change our music-listening styles to become healthier. For example, I know that distracting myself can help me stop ruminating — and as the saying goes, neurons that fire together wire together; thus changing that kind of habit can eventually change your brain.

That is in line with the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy developed by Marsha Linehan, a form of therapy that helps with distress tolerance and emotional regulation. DBT was designed to help individuals who have difficulty handling their intense feelings, and offers as a tool ways to distract oneself from unhealthy habits of thinking. This new research can and should be implemented by music therapists and DBT therapists alike, as we better understand how music affects our emotions and mental health.

I previously wrote about the evolutionary aspect of music, and how it can help us act more altruistically. Perhaps as more studies are done on music, behavior, and emotion, we can use its mysterious power to better ourselves and our world. That strikes a chord with me, and I feel fine.

Malcolm Gladwell live! | Strangers, Storytelling, and Psychology

Join the legend of non-fiction in conversation with best-selling author and poker pro Maria Konnikova.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to your calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo


Keep reading Show less

Map of the World's Countries Rearranged by Population

China moves to Russia and India takes over Canada. The Swiss get Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi India. And the U.S.? It stays where it is. 

Strange Maps

What if the world were rearranged so that the inhabitants of the country with the largest population would move to the country with the largest area? And the second-largest population would migrate to the second-largest country, and so on?

Keep reading Show less

Can a quantum strategy help bring down the house?

Study finds quantum entanglement could, in principle, give a slight advantage in the game of blackjack.

Photo by Sheri Hooley on Unsplash
Surprising Science
In some versions of the game blackjack, one way to win against the house is for players at the table to work as a team to keep track of and covertly communicate amongst each other the cards they have been dealt.
Keep reading Show less

Virgin Galactic uses space tech to create new supersonic jet

The space tourism company Virgin Galactic teams up with Rolls Royce to create a new Mach 3 supersonic aircraft.

New supersonic aircraft from Virgin Galactic.

Credit: Virgin Galactic
Technology & Innovation
  • Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic has announced a partnership with Rolls Royce.
  • The space tourism company will create a new supersonic jet for super-fast travel on Earth.
  • The aircraft will travel at Mach 3 – three times the speed of sound.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast