Interaction between Aesthetic Judgement and Emotional Processing: Studying a Concert Audience Listening to Contemporary Music

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Musicologists, practitioners, and critics have recognized that contemporary music is often challenging to audiences used to traditional western music structures. There are several theories of emotional processing of music, including emotional contagion, musical expectation, or brain stem reflexes that might explain why music that is complex, dissonant, or loud induce negative emotional responses. However, such music can be also enjoyable to some listeners. This could be because aesthetic value judgement on dimensions such as originality, tastefulness, skillfulness, or expressiveness interact with the way we respond emotionally to music (Juslin, 2013). In our view, this form of aesthetic judgement could be similar to general cognitive appraisal and reappraisal which have been discussed to function in emotion regulation in general. Therefore, studying aesthetic value judgement and emotional responses to music might allow to show insights to the interaction of cognitive and affective systems involved in music listening.

The aim of the presented study is to test for the impact of aesthetic judgement on various psychophysiological response measures of emotion that were assessed in parallel from an entire audience listening to contemporary music. Conducting this study in a naturalistic concert setting allowed to present the music in an artistic frame that is likely to trigger aesthetic judgement processes.
In order to induce different levels of aesthetic judgments in participants, we assigned them randomly to one of two groups in a between-subjects design: one group received a lecture on the music presented, illustrating its aesthetic value, and the other group received a lecture on an unrelated non-musical topic. We hypothesized that receiving the lecture on aesthetic value will increase corresponding ratings of subsequently presented music. Furthermore, we hypothesize that high aesthetic value judgements lead to different psychophysiological responses to the music compared to lower value ratings.

During the concert, we continuously assessed three different emotional response components of from all participants (22 music students and 22 psychology students): a) subjective experience of valence and arousal using a 2-dimensional rating interface; b) activation of the peripheral nervous system through skin conductance and heart rate; c) the
activity of two facial muscles associated with emotional valence (corrugator = negative valence; zygomaticus major = positive valence). Participants listened to multiple contemporary compositions. After each performance, participants completed an online questionnaire and assessed the music presented according to a list of commonly discussed aesthetic judgement criteria, all thought to contribute to the perceived aesthetic value of a piece of art.

Preliminary data analyses show that the lecture on the music significantly increased the aesthetic judgement ratings comparted to attending the lecture on a different non-related subject. Future data analysis will indicate if participant groups with and without the music-related lecture differ in their psychophysiological response to the music.

The findings reported in this study will contribute to understanding the contribution of aesthetic judgement processes in emotional responding to music. Those results will help to identify the role of cognitive-affective interactions in processing music stimuli. Furthermore, understanding if and how providing additional background information on music informs aesthetic judgement processes of music that in turn can modify our emotional responses to music, will help those that try to support music that might be emotionally problematic to some.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2017
Event25th Anniversary Conference of the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music (ESCOM): “The expressive interaction with music” - Ghent
Duration: 31 Jul 20174 Aug 2017


Conference25th Anniversary Conference of the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music (ESCOM)
Internet address

Cite this