The sound of music: how does it relate to our emotions?


For most of us, music cannot go unnoticed. As someone once said, “we can close our eyes but we can’t close our ears.” According to neuroscience specialists at Goldsmiths University, music works in a ‘subtle, pre-conscious way’ on people. Research shows that we can use music as a type of coping strategy - we listen to music that elicits emotions that we want to feel in that given moment. For example, how many people have a playlist with upbeat songs that they use to get them in the ‘workout’ mood while at the gym?

According to a study by Kawakami et al. (2013), there are two types of emotions related to music: perceived emotions and felt emotions. Basically this means we can understand the emotions of a song without actually feeling it. This explains why some of us actually enjoy listening to ‘sad’ and ‘love sick’ music.

Back in the day, brands and advertisers were intrigued to understand how exactly music would affect our emotions and behaviours but due to the lack of technology it was difficult and research relied on conscious data (this means consumers are aware of the responses they are feeding back through surveys and focus groups etc.). In fact, a methodology using conscious data is still popular nowadays. For example, survey based research was constructed by Nielsen Entertainment in 2015, showing that popular songs (such as pop), generic background music, and advertising jingles cause adverts to come across in 4 different ways – 1) empathy 2) creative 3) emotive 4) information

Popular songs - most effective for raising some kind of emotional response and can often add value to the information communicated in the ad.

Generic background music – the study shows it is more effective for helping us take in the information displayed in ads.

Advertiser jingles – they can make the brand seem in touch but they do not create as much empathy from consumers as the other forms of music.

While this information is useful, research can dig deeper and advertisers can now know even more due to the rise of emotional response technology! Not only does this type of tech allow us to see different emotional responses, but it also allows us to work out the audience’s level of engagement to music in ads through the measurement of subconscious data.

We’ve proven this in our work several times. Perhaps most interestingly when we wanted to find out what 2014 song nominated at the Brit Awards was the most emotionally engaging. We measured both the valence (physical responses that humans are aware of making) and arousal (emotions that humans cannot physically control or avoid from showing) of participants while they were listening to all 5 nominations.

Using our emotional response technology, we came across key findings that advertisers should ultimately consider when creating musical advert campaigns:

- The tempo of a song is very important; for instance up-tempo songs should create the emotion of happiness

- Whether the song is popular or not, the relationship strength between the music and the emotions of a consumer can significantly depend on whether they see the song as likeable and familiar

- Consumers show a natural interest if the song is ‘catchy’

In conclusion, whether it be in relation to music or any other piece of content in advertising and marketing, the understanding of consumers’ emotional responses is key! If strategies, campaigns and products are developed without taking the responses and behaviours of consumers into consideration, firms are not likely to achieve success. Brands need to constantly research how their customers and potential customers are responding to their content and in order to gain data of the highest quality and reliability emotional response technology is the way forward!