Tag Archives: Psychology

Turn It Up and Cheer Up

by Peter Muller


Most people who can hear (and some who can’t) have an important relationship with music. Some listen passively to that damn Muzak on the elevator while others obsessively dig through crates of vinyl and overload their computers collecting it. Either way, music is a part of every one’s lives. White Apple earbuds dangling from ears have become as socially ubiquitous as wearing sunglasses or carrying a purse. Hipster mustaches only dream of such market penetration.

When artists create music as self-expression, it’s often tied to heavy emotional states. Although there is no denying the existence of emotion in music, a common dispute between music researchers has been how it affects the listener. Anyone who listens to music knows the feelings of joy or excitement that comes with hearing a familiar upbeat song or the calming effect of a slower chill tune. The question raised by researchers is whether or not that feeling comes from the music changing the listeners’ actual emotional state, or just their perception of the artist’s emotion in the music.


That‘s exactly what a group of researchers from Sweden’s Örebro and Uppsala Universities set out to discover. Both sides of the argument had been supported in previous studies because variables that serve as identifiers of emotion were not standardized throughout the field of study. Some of the studies used only surveys, which were flawed because a listener couldn’t consciously understand where their emotions stemmed from. Others used popular music samples in their tests and read involuntary reactions, making it unclear whether the reactions came from the tone of the music, or the listener’s memories associated with a particular song.

To get a more accurate reading, the Swedish researchers picked the tests from old studies which had previously yielded the most reliable results, combining them into one standardized measurement. Using listener surveys and electronic tests for autonomic responses (facial expression, heart rate, skin conductance and temperature), the researchers developed the most accurate reading of emotional origin to date.

32 subjects (16 male, 16 female) listened to music through headphones, during which they were surveyed on emotional state and tested electronically for the autonomic responses.

“The stimuli consisted of simple pop songs in a singer-songwriter style sung and performed on the acoustic guitar. One happy song and one sad song each were performed by a male and a female singer, yielding a total of four musical performances… we decided to use lyrics in English that were neutral in character (no emotion words were allowed)”.

In the end, the findings pointed to clear evidence that music does, in fact, alter the emotional state of its listeners. Happy music genuinely made the subjects happy and sad music bummed them out, regardless of gender. That’s good information to know given the recent election results, we’ll need lots of Jackie Wilson and Feist to get through the next 2 years.


Take a look at our good friend Tom above. Would you say he looks happy? Sad? Indifferent? Possibly angry? That could depend on what you’ve been listening to lately. In a related study, a group of researchers at the University of London have linked musical tone to the way people perceive the emotions of others. Given the fact that music and facial expressions both convey clear emotion, the researchers wanted to see if one could influence the other. In the study, subjects listened to short clips of music classified as “happy” or “sad” while viewing photos of people with happy, sad, and neutral facial expressions. The results were quite significant. A person listening to happy music obviously identified the happy faces, but also attributed happiness to the neutral faces and even some of the sad faces! The opposite was true for sad music. Maybe Tom would cheer up if he lightened up his music a little?

Last week we looked at Emotional Intelligence and its effect on others around you (e.g., the workplace, relationships). How you feel can affect everything in your life, and everything in your life can effect how you feel. Knowing that music has such a strong effect on your emotions, you can use it to pick yourself up when you’re feeling blue, or calm yourself down when you’re pissed. Music is used to control our emotions all the time. Stores play music that makes us want to shop, political candidates and sporting events rev their audiences up with fight songs, and spas play that sleepy slow stuff for a reason. Pop in those white earbuds and see where your playlist takes you today.

Emotional Responses To Music: Experience, Expression, and Physiology
by: Lars-Olov Lundqvist, Fredrik Carlsson, Per Hilmersson, & Patrik N. Juslin
Örebro University, Uppsala University, Sweden
Psychology of Music 2009 37: 61

Crossmodal Transfer Of Emotion By Music
by: Nidhya Logeswaran & Joydeep Bhattacharya
Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths College, University of London, London, United Kingdom
Neuroscience Letters 455 (2009) 129–133

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To Shop, Or Not To Shop: An Interview with an Expert

by Lizzy Sebuck

We all go a little crazy during the shopping season. Have you been wondering why you felt like you needed to spend $400 on that hot pair jeans last week? There really is no excuse for spending that much, and we’re here to tell you why. If you need an intervention, you’re about to get one; meet Nicole Tarandy-Whalen; a school psychologist with over twenty years of experience in the field of Psychology. Nicole took the time to sit down with Occam’s Taser and discuss Cohen-Zada and Sander ‘s research findings in their study about the relationship between materialism and unhappiness. In this special interview, we get a further understanding of why our emotions go into a frenzy as soon as we start swiping that Mastercard, or better yet, why we can’t stop swiping. In this interview, Nicole explains why shopping can be destructive to the psyche and how the holiday season can effect moods and behaviors.

Occam’s Taser: What kind of emotions do people experience when they shop, or furthermore, when they earn and spend money?
Nicole Tarandy-Whalen: I think people feel a great deal of pride and accomplishment when they earn money and spend money. People feel generally happy to be able to buy the things they need or want. On the other hand, many people buy things they can’t afford and often end up in debt. This can cause negative feelings due to anxiety and stress from owing money and not being able to pay bills.  This is a two sided question with no correct answer as some people just LOVE to shop and would go shopping everyday if they could, while others HATE shopping and avoid it at all costs.  So I guess it really depends on the personality of the shopper and if they generally enjoy the task or dread it.

OT: Are the findings by Cohen-Zada and Sander just a unique case or is there really a correlation between money and unhappiness? Why/Why not?
NTW: I don’t believe there is truly a correlation between money and unhappiness. First of all, people who do a lot of shopping don’t necessarily have lots of money. If they just looked at net income and overall happiness then they might be able to conclude the correlation between money and unhappiness.

OT: So is it more so money and/or materialism that brings unhappiness or is it other behaviors that stem from having money that leads to unhappiness? ‘Cause the boy with the cold hard cash is always Mr. Right.
NTW: I believe that materialism is what leads to unhappiness not necessarily money. By and large, money buys happiness only for those who lack the basic needs. Once you pass an income of $50,000, more money doesn’t buy much happiness.

In fact, the more money you make doesn’t necessarily make you happier.  It is extremely difficult to escape materialism in our society. Often people purchase items they can’t afford.  There are so many loan stores and so many living on credit no wonder those who shop (and appear to have money) are unhappy. Most people are living way beyond their means which is extremely stressful leading to unhappiness and depression.  (There are some good tips in the link above to help one escape materialism. )

If a study really wants to look at the correlation between money and happiness they need to look at how much money one has (not how much shopping they do) and determine how happy they are.  I like this study because it does just that AND it looks at 2 types of happiness, day to day happiness and happiness with overall life satisfaction.

OT:What about shopping for others and not for yourself (it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas), does that influence the shopper’s individual moods and behaviors?
NTW: Well it depends. There is no simple answer and differs from person to person.  Some who feel content with their bodies love to shop and get new and fun clothes. Others who are not so happy with their bodies dread shopping.  Some people are inclined to shop and LOVE to shop for others. They enjoy trying to find the perfect gift that another would just love and appreciate. Again others dread having to shop for others as it is a burden.  If you are shopping for a spouse or boy/girl friend, one might enjoy shopping. Yet that same person may hate shopping for an office mate or family member.  So depending on who and why you are shopping your mood and behavior is definitely effected.

OT: Most women love to shop, is shopping more negative when it is done alone or in a group? Are there any emotional pros/cons to shopping alone or with a friend? (Say shopping again. Shopping.)
NTW: I think it could be more negative when done as a group. If you are alone, you can go where ever, when ever and take your time without someone rushing you or taking extra time in one store when you just want to move on.  Sometimes others will give you their opinion when you really don’t want it. I think shopping alone is best so you can “worry about yourself” and no one else. If you want another opinion then you could bring someone back another time to get their opinion. Group shopping could be fun for younger people as it is a social activity but when you have a purpose and an idea of what you are looking for, a friend or a group can slow you down and actually disrupt the situation. Although there could be some bonding especially with young girls/women, there are more cons to shopping with a friend or a group than there are shopping alone. If you are alone, you can do exactly what you want.

OT: So can a person have a lot of money and still be truly happy? What is the difference between this kind of person and the unhappy shopper Cohen-Zada and Sander researched?
NTW: Definitely a person can have a lot of money and still be truly happy.  Also, there are people with very little money who are truly happy, right?   It seems in the study those who were truly happy attended church more often and those who were unhappy attended church less and possibly shopped instead.  Just because they shopped doesn’t mean they had lots of money either.  Often people who shop and buy lots of things, shouldn’t as they don’t have the means to pay for their purchases, often causing more stress and unhappiness.  Also, I think they said or something I read said that purchasing things and shopping may cause happiness for the moment/day (immediate gratification) whereas going to church and not shopping lead to more sustained happiness in the long run.
OT: So what they say is true, money can’t buy you happiness?
NTW: I would have to say NO money can’t buy happiness.  Think of one of your not-so-joyous negative friends.  Now think of them with lots of money.  Either way, they are still your not-so-joyous negative friend just with some money now.  That may boost their spirits for a bit but if they don’t change their thoughts and behavior, money won’t change it either. I wonder if “money can’t buy you love”.  Now I am going to look at some research about that

OT: With the holidays approaching, do you think a person’s emotion, mood, or behavior could have a heightened effect with extra shopping looming ahead?
NTW: The holidays definitely have an effect on a persons emotions, mood, and behavior.  Although the holidays seem to be associated with happiness, especially in children, stress also is prevalent primarily in adults.  The “holiday blues” often refers to feelings many adults feel around the holidays.  Stress, fatigue, unrealistic expectations, over commercialism, inability to be with family and friends (or even the ability TO be with your entire family), and inability to be two places at the same time, all effect ones emotions and feelings.  This definitely has a physiological effect on your thoughts and your body responds.  These thoughts and situations directly change your bodies chemistry.

OT: So Nicole, how can we survive the holidays and the mayhem that is holiday shopping?
NTW:

  • Set realistic goals for the holiday like what you can feasibly do and can’t do.
  • Leave “yester-year” in the past and look only toward the future.
  • The holidays aren’t always about being with people but also spending time for yourself. “Worry about yourself”, I love that saying!
  • Limit drinking and overeating to keep your mind and body fresh and healthy.
  • Sleep consistently and enough but not too much.  Get up at a regular time on the weekends even if you don’t have to work to keep your body’s clock regulated.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Spend time with supportive and caring people and avoid those who bring you down.
  • Meet a new friend or contact some old friends you haven’t seen in a while.
  • Find some time to relax.  Everyone is so busy especially during the holiday season.  We need to put the to-do list away for a bit and find some time to just relax.
  • Focusing on your social, physical, mental, and spiritual well-being is the key.

So there you have it. Nicole believes that the research regarding happiness and shopping don’t exactly go hand in hand. Shopping can be an enjoyable activity, but it is pre-developed personality traits that determine how a person will react to wealth and material goods. To really be happy and survive the holidays you’ve got to take care of yourself physically and mentally to maintain sanity Sorry ladies, but if one of your biggest worries is that you’re just in like with your Sketchers, but in love with your Prada backpack, we’re here to tell you that neither will really bring you happiness anyways.This time of year can make just about anyone a little loopy, and at Occam’s Taser we’re here to remind you; try not to turn into a greedy Grinch this holiday season and to just keep it cool; it’s the best way to stay smiling.