Wednesday Jan 19, 2022

Music evokes emotions and influences the way we perceive the world

Music has an undeniable power to evoke emotions. Music is present at all important social gatherings: weddings, funerals, birthdays, housewarmings, and more. Every “normal” human being responds to the mysterious ability of music to access the limitless ocean that is human emotion. Music even calls into question the long-held notion that there is an objective reality that can be accurately perceived. Music raises fundamental questions like …

Why does music evoke emotions?

How does music affect emotions?

Is music a basic human need for shelter, food, and meaningful work?

Such questions go to the very core of human nature. The answers to these questions would help clarify the unique role of music in our lives.

Music impacts our emotions

Different types of music have been shown in research to evoke different emotional reactions (in most people). For example, Lewis, Dember, Schefft, and Radenhausen determined the effects of music versus video on several mood assessments: the optimism / pessimism questionnaire, the multi-affect adjectives checklist, and the euphoria and euphoria scale. Wessman-Ricks depression (1). Experts rated a number of songs and videos as positive or negative. The study found that the songs had a great impact on the emotional state of the listener, but the videos did not. Not surprisingly, music that was rated positively increased the participants’ positive moods. It was the exact opposite for negative (ie sad) music. As you may have guessed, the mood of a piece of music tends to induce similar emotions in the listener.

Chastain, Seibert, and Ferraro (2) supported these findings and found that certain music reduced participants’ attention. Participants were found to hear and remember words that matched the mood of the music. In itself, this is not surprising.

Music influences the way we view inanimate objects

More surprising are the results reported by Stratton and Zalanowski (3) where the mood of the music influenced how the participants perceived the paintings. Music influenced participants’ emotion and emotion influenced perception. In the studio, paintings were combined with music. Each piece of music was either depressing or positive in the emotion it evoked according to experts. Participants rated the emotions evoked by the paintings and songs. Participants categorized the paintings by the type of music they listened to, but not the other way around. In other words, the paintings rated sad by the experts were perceived as sad by the participants when combined with sad music. However, those same paintings were perceived as positive when combined with upbeat music.; The same findings were reported when positive paintings were combined with happy or sad music, respectively.

Surprisingly, the way we perceive a seemingly static object is not as clear as it was first thought. The emotions invoked by music influence not only our ears, but our eyes as well. Emotions most likely influence each of our senses (i.e. smell, touch, taste, and mind).

Music affects the way we perceive others

If emotions and music can influence our senses and how we perceive the objects around us, do they also influence how we see other people? They do. Music seems to prepare our minds to perceive people in a similar emotional light.

In a fascinating study, Bouhuys, Bloem, and Groothuis analyzed the extent to which music influences the way participants read the facial expressions of the emotions of others (4). Studies have shown that normal people are quite good at correctly identifying emotion on a person’s face (without music). However, listening to music can lead one to believe that a person’s face looks happier or sadder than it actually is. For example, a melancholic, slow-paced song can influence participants to believe that a person looks sad even when they are expressing no emotion. On the other hand, when participants listen to faster-paced, upbeat, and uplifting music, they believe that a neutral face is more or less happy. Music has a significant effect on how we perceive the world.

Although it is not clear why music has such an influence on our emotions, moods and behaviors, it seems clear that music does alter the way we perceive the world around us.

Temporary emotions caused by music change what we pay attention to, what we perceive, and how we interact with others. It challenges the notion that there is an objective reality that can ultimately be accurately perceived.

If you are looking for song suggestions to create your own uplifting, uplifting, uplifting playlist, my complete list of over 600 positive songs can be found at

Feel free to add your own suggestions in the Comments box below. Or send suggestions by email to Info AT Thanks for your help!

Have a great day!

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.
Positive psychologist
Guide To Self, Inc.


(1) Lewis, LM, Dember, WN, Scheff, BK and Radenhausen, RA (1995) Can experimentally induced mood affect optimism and pessimism scores? Curr. Psychol .: Devel., Learn., Person., Social., 14, 29-41.

(2) Chastain, G., Seibert, PS and Ferraro, FR (1995) State of mind and lexical access to positive, negative and neutral words. J. General Psychol., 122, 137-157.

(3) Stratton, VN and Zalanowski, AH (1989) The effects of music and painting on mood. J. Music Ther., 26 years old, 30-41.

(4) Bouhuys AL, Bloem GM, Groothuis TG (1995) Induction of depressed and euphoric mood by music influences the perception of emotional facial expressions in healthy subjects. J affect disorder. 33: 4215-26

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