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Tackling the psychology within music

Art is perceived in many ways by different people, despite being the same work. This is showcased through people’s experience while listening to music. It may appear trivial at first glance, but music has been the subject of many studies and theories for hundreds of years. The DrumBeat asked TJC students how music has impacted their lives, to complement the scientific research aiming to explain the human interest in music.


A 2013 study conducted by the United States National Library of Medicine, operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, serving as the world’s largest biomedical library, used a survey audience of 834 people to rate the importance of 129 functions of music on a scale of 0 (do not agree) to 6 (fully agree). Functions were defined by the NIH as previous theories made about a person’s use of music and non-redundant responses given by participants in prior studies. These 129 functions were grouped into three categories: self-awareness, social relatedness, and mood and arousal regulation. By taking the average rating of the functions grouped under each category, arousal and mood regulation (3.78) was rated to be the most important dimension of listening to music, followed by self-awareness (3.59) and social relatedness (2.01).

Category One:
Arousal and mood regulation

Arousal and mood regulation “includes statements about the use of music as background entertainment and diversion,” and “as a means to get into a positive mood and regulate one’s physiological arousal,” according to the parameters set by the NIH in the study. Some students at TJC also say music can have a direct effect on their mood.

“When I’m down, I like to listen to Christian music to give me an upbeat. I like country music because I like to dance,” said Kathryn Burkham, a sophomore general studies student.
The NIH used previous studies to add to their own. They listed a 2009 study by Emery Schubert, a professor of music and psychology at The University of New South Wales Sydney, in which he argued “the fundamental function of music is its potential to produce pleasure in the listener (and in the performer Slot Gacor Maxwin, as well). All other functions may be considered subordinate to music’s pleasure-producing capacity.” This can be viewed as the aspect of arousal and mood regulation in the NIH study.

“It’s really helped relax and put my mind in like a safe place to where I can always like focus on one thing or just let go of everything and just have a fun time,” said Andru Smith, a sophomore game development major.

Many people use music to better control their emotions with the pleasure they get from the entertainment music provides, which Schubert said is the most important part of the listening process. Burkham and Smith use music in the way Schubert outlines. They are both seeking pleasure from the entertainment music provides to distract themselves and get in a better state of mind.

Category Two:

Self-awareness “includes statements about self-related thoughts, emotions and sentiments, absorption, escapism, solace, and meaning,” according to the parameters set by the NIH in the study. A TJC student had similar feelings when describing her experiences with music.
“Music has always been an escape for me. My mind is always constantly going so it helps block it out, but also helps me realize the emotions that I’m feeling and just basically, I feel more in tune with myself whenever I’m listening to music because I feel like other people understand what I’m going through,” said Riley Crawford, a sophomore kinesiology major.
This encapsulates every single quality that makes up self-awareness as defined by the study. The “self-related thoughts” and “emotions and sentiments” aspects are present in Crawford admitting to using music to better understand her emotions and feel more in tune with herself. “Escapism” and “absorption” are present with her use of music as an escape from reality and to stop her mind from over-analyzing things. “Solace” is present since she said she feels as if someone understands her situation when she listens to music. The only aspect not explicitly mentioned is meaning, but an inference can be made that music has a significant role in her life.

The NIH quoted the 1996 book, “Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music’’ by Simon Frith, a socio-musicologist and Tovey Chair of Music at University of Edinburgh. On page 276, Frith said, “We all hear the music we like as something special, as something that defies the mundane, takes us ‘out of ourselves,’ puts us somewhere else.” This can be viewed as a broad view of the self-awareness aspect identified in the NIH study. Frith said music takes our mind to a place outside of the mundane where we can reflect on our lives. Crawford is exhibiting the process Smith identified in the ways she uses music.

Category Three:
Social relatedness

Social relatedness “includes statements about social bonding and affiliation” and “using music to feel close to their friends, to express their identity and values to others, and to gather information about their social environment,” according to the parameters set by the NIH in the study. A TJC student had a statement parallel to this definition.

“I primarily listen to country music, and I love it so much because I think a good country song tells a story, and kind of offers advice on how to live your life, so I think it’s really rubbed off a lot of inspiration on me on how I can live my life in a way that’s pleasing to me and hopefully to others and to God,” said Tyler Thompson, a sophomore business major.
This statement aligns with the parameters of social relatedness due to Thompson’s sentiments of social bonding along with identity and values. Thompson describes how he believes music can help him express his values and identity to others. The lessons he’s learned from music help him in being a pleasing person.

The NIH cites an article published in the Nordic Journal of Music Therapy titled “The Psychological Functions of Music in Adolescence” by Suvi Laiho, a doctoral student of music education at the University of Jyvaskyla. The article presents a theoretical model of functions of music in adolescence that is “divided into four categories: interpersonal relationships, identity, agency, and emotional field, which represent different areas of psychological functions that can be supported by engaging in music. Through promoting the satisfaction of these psychological aims music contributes substantially to adolescent development and mental health.” The four categories presented can be placed under social relatedness and within Thompson’s statement. The adolescent nature of Thompson means these four categories are still applicable and are important to the nature in which he uses music.


The research and engagement with TJC students echo the findings in this NIH study. Human understanding of the brain’s use of music for socializing, growth, self-fulfillment, emotional stability and comfort is fundamentally linked to everyday life. NIH ends their study with “we found that people appear to listen to music for three major reasons, two of which are substantially more important than the third: music offers a valued companion, helps provide a comfortable level of activation and a positive mood, whereas its social importance may have been overvalued.”

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