Scarlet & Grey
Ohio State University
School of Music

Notes, Concepts and Ideas Concerning Music and Emotion

Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation is the process by which we choose to engage in activities or behaviors that help us to ameliorate the effects of an emotional state. When afraid, a person might whistle a happy tune. When disgusted, we might avert our gaze. See Gross and Munoz (1995). In many cases, emotional regulation can be seen as attempts to treat the symptoms of emotional states rather than their causes.

"Many behavioral means are types of escape devices which can be compared to taking aspirin: they fail to cure the illness, but they help us to cope better with its symptoms. Nevertheless, behavioral means are generally adaptive because they are readily available and have immediate results. As in other cases, excessive use of behavioral means can be maladaptive since such use may ignore crucial information about reality." [See Eisenberg & Fabes (1992) for further information regarding this idea.] "Listening to music in order to reduce anger does not affect specific variables of the anger, but instead changes our global mood by diverting our attention to something pleasant. On the other hand, speaking to a friend about the inevitability of the event which generated the anger may reduce the weight of the specific variable of controllability." (Ben-Ze'ev, 2000; p.229). Perhaps teenagers listen to more music because they are in greater need of mood regulation, and have fewer other resources to draw on.

According to Kubey and Csikszentmihalyi (1990) , Americans report that watching television is more pleasurable than food, hobbies, religion, marriage, money, sports, or sex. Paradoxically, watching television is reported to have little effect in regulating moods.


Some fears appear to be universal. For example, fear of snakes is commonplace, even in regions of the world where snakes are rare. Similarly, fear of spiders can be found, even in areas where spiders pose no special threat. Fear of heights and fear of the dark are common, as is fear of unfamiliar places and strangers.

See also Fear and Development.

Fear and Development

The fears of the infant, child, adolescent, adult, and elderly differ. Typically, fear of wild animals and fear of the dark is more common for children. With increasing age, fear of injury, illness and crowds tends to increase. See Rachman (1990) .

See also Fear.

Sadness and Value

"Activities typical of a state of sadness are listening to music and taking a nap. Nevertheless, sadness may also lead to the fostering of constructive self-examination. Sadness confirms our appraisal of things as valuable; hence it may happen that we take pride in our ability to feel sadness. As someone once said, `When it gets dark enough you can see the stars.' This would suggest that a major function of sadness is to help people become more aware of what they value and hence conserve it." (Ben-Ze'ev, 2000; p.446). See Cunningham (1988) and Stearns (1993) for more regarding this idea.

Set Point

Happiness appears to have short-term and long-term components. Short-term happiness arises from specific events, such as winning a bet, giving birth, or graduating. While these events are significant and can produce considerable joy, their effects are often short-lived. Long-term happiness appears to relate to personality. Some people can achieve much, have many good things happen in their lives, but still remain rather morose. Other people can experience lives of great misfortune, yet somehow retain a sunny disposition. A wide range of research suggests that each of us has an overall "set point" to which our long-term happiness gravitates. Happy and sad experiences move us to and fro around this set point.

David Kykken offers the following practical advice about trying to attain some level of happiness: "A steady diet of simple pleasures will keep you above your set point. Find the small things that you know give you a little high -- a good meal, working in the garden, time with friends -- and sprinkle your life with them. In the long run, that will leave you happier than some grand achievement that gives you a big lift for a while."

Further References

Gross, J. J. & Munoz, R. F. (1995). Emotional regulation and mental health. Clincial Psychology: Science and Practice, Vol. 2, pp. 151-164.

Kubey, R. & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990) Television and the Quality of Life: How Viewing Shapes Everyday Experience. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.

Rachman, S. (1990). Fear and Courage. New York: Freeman.

Stearns, C. Z. (1993). Sadness. In: M. Lewis & J.M. Haviland (Eds.), Handbook of Emotions. New York: Guilford Press.
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