Induced Empathy Moderates Emotional Responses to Expressive Qualities in Music

Katherine O'Neill, Hauke Egermann

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Recent research has explored the role of empathy in the context of music listening. Here, through an “empathy priming paradigm”, situational empathy was shown to act as a causal mechanism in inducing emotion, however the way empathy was primed had low levels of ecological validity. We, therefore, conducted an online experiment to explore the extent to which information about a composer’s expressive intentions when writing a piece of music would significantly affect the degree to which participants reportedly empathise with the composer and in turn influence emotional responses to expressive music. A total of 229 participants were randomly assigned to three groups. The experimental group read short texts describing the emotions felt by the composer during the process of composition. To control for the effect of text regardless of its content, one control group read texts describing the characteristics of the music they were to hear, and a second control group was not given any textual information. Participants listened to 30 second excerpts of four pieces of music, selected to express emotions from the four quadrants of the circumplex theory of emotion. Having heard each music excerpt, participants rated the valence and arousal they experienced and completed a measure of situational empathy. Results show that situational empathy in response to music is significantly associated with trait empathy. As opposed to those in the control conditions, participants in the experimental group responded with significantly higher levels of situational empathy. Receiving this text significantly moderated the effect of the expressiveness of stimuli on induced emotion, indicating that it induced empathy. We conclude that empathy can be induced during music listening through the provision of information about the specific emotions of a person relating to the music. These findings contribute to an understanding of the psychological mechanisms that underlie emotional responses to music.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalMusicae scientiae
Publication statusPublished - 21 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2020


  • Music
  • Emotion
  • Empathy

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