Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy




Watson, Kevin E.

2nd Supervisor

Grahn, Jessica A.



Research indicates that the ways individuals engage with music listening in daily life has emotional consequences, and that these consequences, and their relationship to well-being, are influenced by a complex interaction among situational variables and personal dispositions. One such disposition is rumination, a response style characterized by repeated dwelling on negative thoughts and feelings. The tendency to ruminate is strongly related to issues such as depression and anxiety in the non-music domain, and music research indicates this trait may moderate relationships between a listener’s mood, the emotional content of their music choices, and the outcomes of listening. The primary aim of the present study was to assess this potential moderation using Experience-Sampling Methodology. Secondary aims included collection of descriptive data regarding typical listening scenarios as well as exploratory assessment of relationships between musical background/experience, motivations for listening, and outcomes.

Participants (N=157) downloaded the MuPsych smartphone app and completed regular reports about their listening experiences over a two-week period. Information collected included mood measures taken at the onset of listening and again after a five-minute period, as well as information about current context and musical selections. Participants also completed measures of trait rumination and musical background.

Results obtained via multilevel structural equation modeling indicate that although associations between initial mood, music valence, and affective outcomes were significant and in the expected direction, trait rumination generally did not significantly moderate these relationships. Nor was musical background or experience related to any motivation for listening or listening outcomes. Descriptive data, however, tended to support prior research regarding listening frequencies, common listening contexts, and the prevalence of affective change associated with listening.

The present study has implications for music therapy and education, perhaps especially for awareness-building programs designed to help individuals acquire adaptive affect regulation skills and habits. Results here also lend support to the idea that the emotional outcomes of music listening are more strongly influenced by minute-to-minute situational variables than by dispositional or between-subjects variables.

Summary for Lay Audience

Listening to music is one of the most commonly enjoyed leisure activities, and for many people, it is a nearly ubiquitous part of their daily lives. Research indicates that music can elicit a variety of emotional responses including joy, contentment, and sadness, and can help people to relax or raise energy levels. Furthermore, many people listen to music for the express purpose of influencing how they feel. However, just as music can be used in healthy ways to create emotional experiences, people sometimes reproduce unhelpful patterns of managing their emotions through music listening, potentially leading to detriments to their well-being. Research also indicates that the tendency to ruminate or dwell on our negative thoughts and feelings may also influence the emotions experienced in response to music, and subsequent impact on well-being.

The present study aimed to explore connections between people’s tendencies to ruminate, their music listening choices, and emotions experienced in response to music. Participants (N = 157) downloaded the MuPsych app and over a two-week period, they were prompted to answer questions every time they used their phone to listen to music. Questions asked included information about their mood before and after listening, whether they chose happy or sad music, and whether they had specific motivations for listening. Participants also provided information about their tendencies to ruminate and their musical background.

Data analysis found that the mood a listener was in at the time of listening was related to mood changes after listening; the mood of the music was also related to outcomes. However, this study found that the tendency to ruminate did not affect their listening choices or the emotional outcomes of music listening sessions. Furthermore, it was found that whether an individual played a musical instrument or had formal training in music was not related to listening motivations or outcomes.

This study has implications for music therapy and for education, as music listening habits and ways of managing daily emotions may be learned. The results of this study also emphasize that elements of individual listening sessions may be more important in determining outcomes than personality traits or other dispositions.

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