Probabilistic models of expectation violation predict psychophysiological emotional responses to live concert music

Hauke Egermann, Marcus T Pearce, Geraint A Wiggins, Stephen McAdams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We present the results of a study testing the often-theorized role of musical expectations in inducing listeners' emotions in a live flute concert experiment with 50 participants. Using an audience response system developed for this purpose, we measured subjective experience and peripheral psychophysiological changes continuously. To confirm the existence of the link between expectation and emotion, we used a threefold approach. (1) On the basis of an information-theoretic cognitive model, melodic pitch expectations were predicted by analyzing the musical stimuli used (six pieces of solo flute music). (2) A continuous rating scale was used by half of the audience to measure their experience of unexpectedness toward the music heard. (3) Emotional reactions were measured using a multicomponent approach: subjective feeling (valence and arousal rated continuously by the other half of the audience members), expressive behavior (facial EMG), and peripheral arousal (the latter two being measured in all 50 participants). Results confirmed the predicted relationship between high-information-content musical events, the violation of musical expectations (in corresponding ratings), and emotional reactions (psychologically and physiologically). Musical structures leading to expectation reactions were manifested in emotional reactions at different emotion component levels (increases in subjective arousal and autonomic nervous system activations). These results emphasize the role of musical structure in emotion induction, leading to a further understanding of the frequently experienced emotional effects of music.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)533-553
JournalCognitive, affective behavioral neuroscience
Issue number3
Early online date20 Apr 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2013


  • Acoustic Stimulation,Acoustic Stimulation: methods,Adolescent,Adult,Arousal,Arousal: physiology,Auditory Perception,Autonomic Nervous System,Autonomic Nervous System: physiology,Emotions,Emotions: physiology,Female,Humans,Male,Models,Music,Music: psychology,Psychophysiology,Statistical,Young Adult

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