Psychology Wiki

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Cognitive Psychology: Attention · Decision making · Learning · Judgement · Memory · Motivation · Perception · Reasoning · Thinking  - Cognitive processes Cognition - Outline Index

Music Psychology, or the psychology of music, may be regarded either as a branch of psychology or as a branch of musicology. It aims to explain and understand musical behavior and musical experience. Modern music psychology is mainly empirical: music-psychological knowledge tends to advance primarily on the basis of interpretations of data about musical behavior and experience, which are collected by systematic observation of and interaction with human participants.

Humans can spend enormous amounts of time, effort, and money on musical activities. Why? The modern, international field of music psychology is gradually exploring a multitude of issues that surround this central question. Music psychology may be regarded as scientific research about human culture. The results of this research have, and will continue to have, direct implications for matters of general concern: human values, human identity, human nature, and quality of life.


The modern, international field of music psychology is gradually exploring a multitude of issues that surround the question of why humans spend enormous amounts of time, effort, and money on musical activities. Music psychology may be regarded as scientific research about human culture. The results of this research have, and will continue to have, direct implications for matters of general concern: human values, human identity, human nature, human evolution, expansion of consciousness.

Research areas

Questions in music psychology are often difficult to answer. It is therefore necessary to subject the research literature to careful quality control procedures. These generally take the form of anonymous expert peer review, which is a standard feature of all leading music-psychological societies, conferences, and journals.

Music psychologists investigate all aspects of musical behavior by applying methods and knowledge from all aspects of psychology. Topics of study include for example:


    • the interpersonal/social aspects of group performance
  • Developmental aspects of music musical behaviours and abilities throughout the lifespan
  • the daily lives and challenges of professional musicians, regardless of whether they

perform from scores or improvise, perform alone or in groups, or compose or arrange music on paper or with the aid of computers

    • audience's evaluation of a music performance including:
      • the audience's positive evaluation shift as a result of an audio-visual presentation mode[1]

Background music

The study of background music focuses on the impact of music with non-musical tasks, including changes in behavior in the presence of different types, settings, or styles of music.[2] In laboratory settings, music can affect performance on cognitive tasks (memory, attention, and comprehension), both positively and negatively. Used extensively as an advertising aid, music may also affect marketing strategies, ad comprehension, and consumer choices.

Effects on cognitive performance

Background music can influence learning,[3][4][5][6] working memory and recall,[7][8] performance while working on tests,[9][10] and attention on cognitive monitoring tasks.[11][12]

Tasks music improves

Participants who memorized foreign language words while listening to Baroque music recalled an average of 8.7% more words than those who did not listen to music. The effect of music was stronger for less common words, and there was no effect of music on recall a week later.[3]

The Mozart effect occurs when performance on cognitive tasks requiring spatial manipulations (such as a mental rotation task) improves after listening to fifteen minutes of Mozart.[6][13] In a typical mental rotation task, participants see two 3D shapes drawn on paper, and then decide if they are different views of the same shape or different shapes. This comparison often requires mental rotation of the object. The Mozart effect is inconsistent when tested with musicians and non-musicians. Only non-musicians showed any improvement when given the mental rotation task before and after listening to Mozart.[6] Musicians tend to process music using both brain hemispheres, whereas non-musicians use mostly their right hemisphere. Listening to Mozart increased arousal in the right hemisphere (active during mental rotation), and non-musicians may have performed better due to more right hemisphere activity.[6]

Digit detection tasks require participants to monitor a stream of letters for two randomly placed digits, and attentional blink (the inability to detect the second visual target) may occur after the first digit is detected.[11] When accompanied by task-irrelevant mental activity, performance can actually improve on attentionally-demanding visual search tasks. Detection rates of the second digit were significantly higher when accompanied by music.[11] This suggests that background music may facilitate increased arousal or increased positive affective state, leading to better attention. It is also possible that the music induces a more diffuse distribution of attention, so that participants can attend over a broader search that includes the second digit.[11]

A similar phenomenon, inattentional blindness, refers to the tendency to miss a novel stimulus when attending to other stimuli.[12] As a laboratory task, participants are instructed to attend to moving visual stimuli on a computer monitor while an “A” of a different color moves across the screen.[12] A simple auditory task required participants to listen for an occasional embedded tone amidst background music, and this attenuated the blindness to the “A." Participants were able to perform both tasks simultaneously at a higher rate than the visual monitoring alone, and engaged in fewer task-unrelated thoughts, suggesting that not all increases in task demand are equal. Music may fill a special role that leads to increased arousal without affecting concurrent task performance.[12]

Tasks music impairs

Though increased arousal from music listening may improve cognitive performance (possibly the process through which the Mozart effect occurs),[2] the irrelevant sound effect (or irrelevant speech effect)[5] can also occur. When two concurrent sources of information compete must be processed, the sources interfere with each other. In serial recall tasks participants must recall (in the correct order) lists of digits or words. Music with a high degree of acoustical variation tends to inhibit performance on serial recall tasks by drawing on cognitive resources.[5]

When performing digit span tasks in the presence of music, participants must recall a string of digits of increasing length. Those completing the tasks in silence performed significantly better than those listening to music (it did not matter if the music was liked or disliked).[5]

Mixed effects and moderating factors

In a verbal learning test that consisted of words and non-words, background music had no significant impact on test performance.[4] Participants studied with original excerpts in which tempo and consonance (in or out of tune) were manipulated, nondescript noise, and silence. While test performance did not differ across these conditions, stronger EEG readings were registered with consonant and fast music.[4] This suggests music may draw more cognitive resources, though increased cortical activation compensates to preserve task performance.[2]

Musical variations

The nature of the background music, either vocal or instrumental, and the perceived correctness of the music can change its effect on cognitive performance.

Working memory, and more specifically the phonological loop (memory process through which auditory information is rehearsed and stored for short-term recall), plays an integral role in processing digit span tasks.[7] In the presence of either vocal music or irrelevant speech, performance appears to suffer similarly with both, whereas listening to instrumental renderings of the same songs (or working in silence) tends to lead to better performance.[7]

The presence of lyrics differentially affects performance depending on the nature of the task. Performance on verbal tests (reading comprehension) tends to improve with silence versus either vocal or instrumental music. On the other hand, math test performance is higher with vocal music than with instrumental. Logic performance (understanding flow charts or diagrams) is higher with either vocal or instrumental versus silence.[10] If music leads to a more aroused state, it appears to only improve performance when the music does not directly interfere with the task (e.g., lyrics interfere with verbal processing).[10]

Expert musicians and non-musicians listened to either music played correctly, played with errors, or silence while performing a language-based task (evaluating grammar in given sentences).[9] Both musicians and non-musicians performed worse while listening to incorrectly played music versus silence, but only musicians performed significantly worse in the presence of incorrect music versus correct music. With a visuo-spatial search task (locating differences between nearly identical images filled with geometric patterns and color), neither group was affected by the music conditions.[9] Musicians were more attentive to the errors in the music, and their performance suffered more. Though music can be arousing and lead to higher cognitive performance, it can also be distracting.[9]


The Cortical Arousal Theory suggests that background music may differentially impact cognitive performance based on certain personality traits.[8] Both introverts and extraverts tend to perform higher on immediate recall (recalling ideas from a story just read), delayed recall, and Stroop tasks in silence versus popular lyrical music.[8] Introvert's performance suffered more than extravert's with highly arousing music, suggesting internal arousal through music can differentially affect cognitive performance.

Music in marketing

In both radio and television advertisements, music plays an integral role in content recall,[14][15][16] intentions to buy the product, and attitudes toward the advertisement and brand itself.[17][18][19] Music’s effect on marketing has been studied in radio ads,[16][18][19] TV ads,[14][15][17] and physical retail settings.[20][21]

One of the most important aspects of an advertisement’s music is the “musical fit," or the degree of congruity between cues in the ad and song content.[22] Advertisements and music can be congruous or incongruous for both lyrical and instrumental music. The timbre, tempo, lyrics, genre, mood, as well as any positive or negative associations elicited by certain music should ‘’fit’’ the nature of the advertisement and product.[22]

Product involvement refers to the degree of personal relevance and perceived purchase risk regarding a given product, while advertising involvement refers to the amount of attention directed toward the advertisement and its content.[22] Both types can be more cognitively (content-focused) or affectively (emotion-focused) oriented, changing the way in which background music interacts with advertisement viewing or listening.


When viewing 30-second TV ads containing background classical music, recall was tested for brand name and message content.[14] Participants viewed an original commercial (for a fictional brand of soap) embedded in an episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos. The same commercial was paired with either familiar or unfamiliar classical music of a slow or fast tempo. Results revealed an inverted-U relationship between tempo and recall (faster tempo correlated with higher recall to a certain point, then recall began to suffer). This was only found when the ad contained familiar music, suggesting that familiarity mediates advertisement involvement.[14] This supports a resource-matching hypothesis: message processing is maximized when the cognitive resources demanded match those available. As music speed increases, information density in the ad increases. As long as cognitive resources are not exceeded, ad processing more equally matches an increased state of arousal through the music.[14]

In real radio commercials, data reveal a different relationship when the whole stimulus is auditory.[16] Though a better match (higher congruity) between musical timbre and ad message led to higher recall, both slow and fast background music reduced content recall, with slower music leading to significantly lower performance than fast music.[16]

Background music can act as a peripheral persuasion cue, evoking emotional responses and positive attitudes toward both the advertisement and the brand. These emotional responses can also interfere with recall.[15] Women were shown a TV commercial for a fictional brand of hair shampoo, and assigned either to a "cognitively involved" group (instructed to pay attention to the specifics of product quality and ratings), an "affectively involved" group (instructed to watch for the product’s unique personality).[15] Popular music played in the background and facilitated recall only in the affective involvement group; it had a distracting effect with cognitive involvement.[15] This suggests a differential effect of background music in commercials based on product involvement and types of processing.

Intentions and attitudes

Attention paid to the ad and brand, attitudes toward each, and purchase intentions were measured in response to fictional TV commercials that contained either culturally appropriate or inappropriate music.[17] Congruent product-music commercials (e.g., Asian music paired with Asian product) elicited significantly more favorable attitudes toward the product.[17]

Radio commercials, when paired with congruent music (rated in another experiment as fitting the product being advertised), show similar trends.[19] Interestingly, congruent music elicits more positive attitudes toward the advertisement and brand in "high-cognition" ads (e.g., focuses on Rolex specifications) than in "low-cognition" ass (e.g., focuses on feelings accompanying a Rolex).[19] The musical fit differentially affected ad impact based on the type of commercial.

When background music fits radio ad content, but varies on tempo, style, and rhythm, participants formed different impressions of the brand and its endorser. With a slow piano ballad, for example, participants perceived the endorser as more diligent and orderly than when he endorsed a product with rock music. Even given these different impressions, participants did not significantly change their general evaluation of the product.[18] In all conditions there was a high degree of musical fit, but perceptions of brand and endorser can change separate from views toward the ad.[18]

Retail environment

In a survey of shoppers at a suburban mall, both hedonic (pleasure) and utilitarian evaluations of a given shopping experience differed based on an interaction between retail density and the tempo of music playing in the mall.[20] Retail density (number of shoppers) was determined by the time of day and day of the week, while slow and fast music were played. A shopping experience can influence browsing behaviors and evaluations were highest with slow music and high density or fast music and low density.[20] This random survey lends support to a "schema incongruity theory" stating that more elaborate information processing occurs under mildly incongruous conditions. The incongruity between density and music tempo seems to create that condition.[20]

When participants viewed videos of interactions between a sales clerk and a shopper, slow and soothing music led to more negative evaluations toward the store and salesperson, if the sales pitch was weaker.[21] The type of music affected cognitive processing (slow music allowed for greater resources to be used in evaluating the sales pitch). Thus participants viewed a weaker sales pitch more critically, except when faster music drew more resources.[21] Musical fit also applies to retail situations. Regardless of the type of music, however, it needs to at least match the store environment and product to garner positive reactions.[21]


Relevant areas of psychology include:

Relation to music and musicology

Music psychology can shed light on non-psychological aspects of musicology and musical practice. For example, music psychology contributes to music theory by investigating the perception of musical structures such as melody, harmony, tonality, rhythm, meter, and form. Research in music history can benefit from psychologically inspired, systematic study of the history of musical syntax, or from psychological analyses of the personalities of composers in relation to the psychological effect of their music. Ethnomusicology can benefit from psychological approaches to the study of music cognition in different cultures. Research is only beginning in many of these promising areas of interaction.

Leading music psychologists

Leading music psychologists of our time include:


The main music psychology journals are:

The following journals include a high proportion of music-psychological articles:

  • Musicae Scientiae (Journal of New Music Research )

Other music psychology journals include:

  • Psychomusicology
  • Empirical Musicology Review
  • Codex Flores

Music psychologists also publish in a wide range of mainstream musicology, music theory/analysis, psychology, music education, music therapy, music medicine, and systematic musicology journals. The latter include for example:


Leading book publishers in the area of music psychology include Oxford University Press and MIT Press.


The most important conference in music psychology is the biannual International Conference of Music Perception and Cognition.

Other important conferences are organized regularly by:

  • European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music (ESCOM)
  • Society for Music Perception and Cognition (SMPC, USA)

Regional music psychology conferences are organised regularly by:

  • Deutsche Gesellschaft für Musikpsychologie (DGM)
  • Society for Education, Music and Psychology Research (SEMPRE, Britain)
  • Japanese Society for Music Perception and Cognition (JSMPC)
  • Australian Music and Psychology Society (AMPS)
  • Asia-Pacific Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music (APSCOM)

Email lists

The leading email list in the area of music psychology is Psymus. Music-psychological topics are also addressed on the following lists:

  • Systematische Musikwissenschaft (MuWiSys)
  • Auditory
  • Society for Music Theory (SMT-LIST)
  • SMT Music Cognition Group (SMTMCG)
  • Euromusicology


Music psychology (including music perception, music cognition, and music performance research) is studied and researched at the following universities and music academies:

See also


  1. Platz, F., Kopiez, R. (September 2012). When the Eye Listens: A Meta-analysis of How Audio-visual Presentation Enhances the Appreciation of Music Performance. Music Perception 30 (1): 71-83.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Kampfe, J., Sedlmeier, P.; Renkewitz, F. (8 November 2010). The impact of background music on adult listeners: A meta-analysis. Psychology of Music 39 (4): 424–448.
  3. 3.0 3.1 de Groot, Annette M. B. (1 September 2006). Effects of Stimulus Characteristics and Background Music on Foreign Language Vocabulary Learning and Forgetting. Language Learning 56 (3): 463–506.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Jäncke, Lutz, Sandmann, Pascale (1 January 2010). Music listening while you learn: No influence of background music on verbal learning. Behavioral and Brain Functions 6 (1).
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Perham, Nick, Vizard, Joanne (1 July 2011). Can preference for background music mediate the irrelevant sound effect?. Applied Cognitive Psychology 25 (4): 625–631.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Aheadi, A., Dixon, P.; Glover, S. (21 July 2009). A limiting feature of the Mozart effect: listening enhances mental rotation abilities in non-musicians but not musicians. Psychology of Music 38 (1): 107–117.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Alley, Thomas R., Greene, Marcie E. (16 October 2008). The Relative and Perceived Impact of Irrelevant Speech, Vocal Music and Non-vocal Music on Working Memory. Current Psychology 27 (4): 277–289.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Cassidy, G., MacDonald, R. A.R. (1 July 2007). The effect of background music and background noise on the task performance of introverts and extraverts. Psychology of Music 35 (3): 517–537.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Patston, Lucy L. M., Tippett, Lynette J. (1 December 2011). The Effect of Background Music on Cognitive Performance in Musicians and Nonmusicians. Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal 29 (2): 173–183.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Avila, C., Furnham, A.; McClelland, A. (9 November 2011). The influence of distracting familiar vocal music on cognitive performance of introverts and extraverts. Psychology of Music 40 (1): 84–93.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Olivers, Christian N.L., Nieuwenhuis, Sander (1 April 2005). The Beneficial Effect of Concurrent Task-Irrelevant Mental Activity on Temporal Attention. Psychological Science 16 (4): 265–269.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Beanland, Vanessa, Allen, Rosemary A.; Pammer, Kristen (1 December 2011). Attending to music decreases inattentional blindness. Consciousness and Cognition 20 (4): 1282–1292.
  13. Rauscher, Frances H., Shaw, Gordon L.; Ky, Catherine N. (14 October 1993). Music and spatial task performance. Nature 365 (6447): 611–611.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 Hahn, Minhi, Hwang, Insuk (1 December 1999). Effects of tempo and familiarity of background music on message processing in TV advertising: A resource-matching perspective. Psychology and Marketing 16 (8): 659–675.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 Park, C. Whan, Young, S. Mark (1 February 1986). Consumer Response to Television Commercials: The Impact of Involvement and Background Music on Brand Attitude Formation. Journal of Marketing Research 23 (1).
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 Oakes, Steve, North, Adrian C. (1 May 2006). The impact of background musical tempo and timbre congruity upon ad content recall and affective response. Applied Cognitive Psychology 20 (4): 505–520.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 Lalwani, Ashok K., Lwin, May O.; Ling, Pee Beng (14 April 2009). Does Audiovisual Congruency in Advertisements Increase Persuasion? The Role of Cultural Music and Products. Journal of Global Marketing 22 (2): 139–153.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 Zander, M. F. (1 October 2006). Musical influences in advertising: how music modifies first impressions of product endorsers and brands. Psychology of Music 34 (4): 465–480.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 Lavack, Anne M., Thakor, Mrugank V.; Bottausci, Ingrid (1 January 2008). Music-brand congruency in highand low-cognition radio advertising. International Journal of Advertising 27 (4).
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 Eroglu, Sevgin A., Machleit, Karen A.; Chebat, Jean-Charles (1 July 2005). The interaction of retail density and music tempo: Effects on shopper responses. Psychology and Marketing 22 (7): 577–589.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 Chebat, Jean-Charles, Chebat, Claire Gélinas; Vaillant, Dominique (1 November 2001). Environmental background music and in-store selling. Journal of Business Research 54 (2): 115–123.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 OAKES, STEVE (1 January 2007). Evaluating Empirical Research into Music in Advertising: A Congruity Perspective. Journal of Advertising Research 47 (1).

Further reading

Key texts


  • Sloboda, J.A. (1985) The Musical Mind: The Cognitive Psychology of Music. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Sloboda, J.A. (1988) Generative Processes in Music: the Psychology of Performance, Improvisation and Composition. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Sloboda, J.A., and Deliege, I. (1996) Musical Beginnings: Origins and Development of Musical Competence. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Sloboda, J.A., and Deliege, I. (1997) Perception and Cognition of Music. Mahwah NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
  • Sloboda, J. A. and Juslin, P. (Eds.) (2001). Music and Emotion: Theory and Research. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Sloboda, J. A, (2004) Exploring the Musical Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Sloboda, J.A., Lehmann, A.C, Woody, R.H. (2007) Psychology for Musicians: Understanding and Acquiring the Skills. Oxford University Press, New York.


Additional material



External links

Psychology of music
Music cognition
Absolute pitch | Biomusicology | Cognitive musicology | Developmental aspects of music | Embodied music cognition | Music acoustics | Music neuroscience]] | Music-related memory | Perception of music | Pitch discrimination | Pitch perception | Psychoacoustics | Relative pitch | Sound localization |
Aspects of Music theory
Melody | Harmonic | Harmonic series | Harmony | Key | Phrasing | Rhythm | Meter | tempo  Rhythm  Tonality |
Musical behaviors
Clapping | Dancing | Everyday music listening | Eye movement in music reading | Improvisation | Musical preferences | Psychology of music composition | Psychology of music performance | sight reading | Singing | [[]] | [[]] | [[]] |
Music education
Dalcroze method | Ear training | Kodaly method]] | Orff-Approach | Suzuki method | Mnemonic major system | Mnemonic peg system | [[]] |
Social psychology of music
Culture in music cognition | Culturally linked qualities | Ethnomusicology | Role in personal identity | Sociomusicology | Systemic musicology | [[]] |[[]] |
Assessment of musical ability
Music specific disorders | Amusia | Asonia |Dysmusia | Tone deafness | Seashore Tests of Musical Ability | [[]] | [[]] |[[]] |
Prominant workers
Jamshed Bharucha | Diana Deutsch |Carol L. Krumhans |Otto Laske |H. Christopher Longuet-Higgins | Helga de la Motte-Haber | John Sloboda | [[]] |
Music Perception | Psychology of Music |Jahrbuch Musikpsychologie |Journal of Research in Music Education |Musicae Scientiae | Psychomusicology | Empirical Musicology Review | Codex Flores |
Journals |Musicology |Music therapy |Musical instruments | Musicians |Rock music | [[]] | [[]] |
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).