An Influential Force

    Music is a force that can do nearly anything. It may even be more powerful than people admit.  “True universality may actually lie in our longing and need to experience emotion in music and that this is because musical emotions are actually more precious than we are often lead to believe” claims Dr. Marcel Zentner (Williamson). Many might wonder why the connection of music holds much more influence on the brain than speech alone. Music has been such a powerful source of entertainment for so many years.

Is there a psychological explanation? Robin Lloyd asserts that “the right temporal lobe could be a key brain site for processing music… Other studies have also shown that the temporal lobe, in [performance] with the frontal lobe, is a key region for understanding certain musical features” (Lloyd). The human body and brain is made to process and react to music.

Does music really unite people? Musician Gillian Howell claims music “can be a powerful way to bring people together, but the universality of musical meaning is not the reason for its effectiveness” (Howell). Music has the power to unite since it is not only a different language but a harmony that most people are capable of interpreting.

How do music preferences fit into a personality? Psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic agrees that “aggressive people like Heavy Metal, clever people like Jazz and Classical, rebellious people like Hip Hop and Rock” (Chamorro-Premuzic). Music can say more of someone than even the person can.

Honing agrees that “there is still little empirical evidence to decide on how far music and specific associated emotions – such as happiness, fear, sadness or anger – are merely a result of association and/or culturally determined, or in fact shared and a result of brain mechanisms that we all share” (Honing). Although not many would jump and dance to their favorite song playing at any given time and place, the brain can recognize the song and then the emotions begin to stir. Dr. Victoria Williamson asserts that “The ability to recognize basic emotions in music, such as happiness and sadness, is a universal skill that does not always depend on previous exposure to the musical style (Fritz et al. 2009)” (Williamson). Williamson found the answer to the psychological reason why people often seek to find emotion in harmony rather than dialogue. In an interview with Marcel Zentner, he asserted that “the chances of triggering an emotional response to randomly selected clips of music was highly unlikely, as such a reaction to music requires many factors to be in the correct alignment and state of interaction” (Williamson).

The effect music has on an individual depends on the state of mind he/she is in. If the music amplifies on the listener’s current emotions, he/she will more likely have an emotional response. Zentner performed a study where he had many people listen to their favorite music and describe their current emotions at the time. At the end of the study he had collected a list of five-hundred and fifteen emotions the people in the study reported they had experienced.  By removing all the unnecessary similar emotions, he still had a wordlist of sixty six feelings. Victoria agrees that this study “was the starting point for the development of the Geneva Emotional Music Scale (GEMS) which is conceived as a starting descriptive model for musical emotions” (Williamson). This scale now holds forty five brands of emotive conditions that are clustered into nine diverse groups. These categories are known as “wonder, transcendence, tenderness, nostalgia, peacefulness, energy, joyful activation, tension, and sadness” (Williamson). Although it is very easy to notice how music can make people feel so much, it is more likely related to the unique blend of the harmonies that create an effect. Zentner also stated in his conclusion that “true universality may actually lie in our longing and need to experience emotion in music” (Williamson). Individuals often try to “feel” everything. At times, they may give too much meaning to music than required, yet the fact that people tend to have an emotional response to music is very evident.

For many people, music is a way to speak when words are too shameful or difficult to say. Sometimes music can reflect something surprising of a person. John, a man in his forties, describes himself in his twenties as a nervous, sensitive, and introverted young man. However, the music he tended to listen to most was loud heavy metal. He later revealed that as a child he was a victim of emotional and physical abuse, the aggressive music was a reflection of the bitter memories of his youth. Music was a way of speaking for him when words were too tough to say (Feiles).  Music so often can shift people from the original emotion they were experiencing before. Music is a force that can help so many individuals cope through challenges as well as stir up a celebration.

Sandra Sanchez, an apartment manager who has overcome many stages in life with music as her best friend, reveals how music influenced her. She states that “as a teenager I went through a lot of horrible things, and through every emotion I felt, I had a song that would express everything I couldn’t say” (Sanchez). Sandra is a reflection of how emotion and music had a very strong connection with her life. She asserts that “most of the time when I hear those songs, I get flashbacks of my days as a teenager and it depresses me” (Sanchez). Music can influence people even throughout many years. Sandra had a rough youth and music served as a very useful outlet for her at the time, even if the songs do not bring pleasant memories now. When asked if music still influences her, Sandra claims “they do, I try to hear uplifting songs that describe what I feel, yet still give me hope” (Sanchez). The life of Sanchez proves that music has and always will influence people.

Dr. Thomas Fritz conducted an experiment where he had a Mafa tribe from Northern Cameroon listen to harmonious music and then they listened to off-key sounds while they were having a brain scan. The results revealed that the brain tends to pay more attention to the harmonious music while it tones out the tuneless sounds (Dialogue Worldwide). Therefore, music somehow draws attention to the listener, making one more aware of the emotions being experienced. The power of music plays a very significant role in the brain. Whenever upbeat music starts to play, people find themselves dancing and acting out, yet no one dances when there is a conversation being held. It has become such a “normal” reaction that many do not even overthink it.


Feiles, Nathan. “How Music Impacts, Helps Our Emotions | World of Psychology.” Psych 1995-2013 Psych Central., 24 June 2012. Web. 18 Nov. 2013. <;.

Gjerdingen, Robert. “The Psychology of Music.” 2002 Northwestern University , n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2013. <;.
Honing, Henkjan. “Music Matters.” Psychology Today. 1991-2013 Sussex Publishers, LLC, 26 Feb. 2013. Web. 19 Nov. 2013. <;.

Howell, Gillian. “music work.” music work., 28 Mar. 2013. Web. 9 Dec. 2013. <;.

Lloyd, Robin. “Amazing Power of Music Revealed.” TechMedia Network, 15 Oct. 2008. Web. 9 Dec. 2013. <;.

Sanchez, Sandra. Email interview. 26 Nov. 2013.

“The Power of Music by Wergii on deviantART.” The Power of Music by Wergii on deviantART. 2013 deviantART, 1 Nov. 2010. Web. 5 Dec. 2013. <;.
Williamson, Victoria. “Emotional reponses to music: The influence of lyrics.” Music Psychology with Dr Victoria Williamson. 2013 Music Psychology with Dr Victoria Williamson, 14 Jan. 2012. Web. 4 Dec. 2013. <;.

Williamson, Victoria. “Musical emotions – unique and complex.” Music Psychology with Dr Victoria Williamson. 2013 Music Psychology with Dr Victoria Williamson, 6 June 2011. Web. 19 Nov. 2013. <;.

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