My primary research interests include music-evoked mind-wandering, music & emotion, visual imagery, empathic responses to music, music & well-being, creativity, and alexithymia. Overall, my research efforts are driven by the goal of a practical application of music for therapeutic practices in healthy individuals and clinical populations (read more about this here). My research uses the tools of affective and cognitive psychology as well as neuroimaging techniques such as fMRI. I also employ ecologically valid methodologies, such as mobile experience sampling in daily life, psychophysiology, and analysis of qualitative data.
Music, Emotion & Mind-Wandering
My recent experiments have focused on the relation between music, emotion and mind-wandering. Humans spend up to 50% of their waking time engaging with spontaneous thoughts (“mind-wandering” or “daydreaming”) that appear to be minimally constrained by events in the “here and now”. While mind-wandering confers a great mental freedom allowing, for example, the anticipation and planning of personally relevant future goals or creative insights, it also appears to carry significant costs to mood and well-being. Much of the benefits and costs of mind-wandering are determined, among other factors, by the context or task in which mind-wandering occurs. In this sense, music listening might represent a “safe” context in which spontaneous thoughts can unfold without carrying any pernicious effect. My research focuses in particular on how music can modulate mind-wandering levels and shape the content of spontaneous thoughts via different emotions. Ultimately with this knowledge, I hope to provide novel perspectives on how music can optimize adaptive forms of mind-wandering (e.g., benefits in terms of mood, well-being and creativity) via experience of pleasurable, aesthetic emotions.
Music & Emotion: The Case of Sad Music
Listeners from around the world deliberately turn to sad music and sorrowful songs, which are often considered among the most beautiful and pleasurable music. But, why are people so drawn to sad music, if sadness is inherently a negative emotion normally avoided in everyday life? While unravelling the sad music’s conundrum, I am particularly interested in investigating the different uses that sad music fulfils in everyday life. The functions of sad music are numerous and encompass emotional, cognitive, social and aesthetic processes, which can be modulated by the personality traits of the listener (e.g., trait empathy) and the listening context. One of my PhD studies showed that sad music is a powerful means for evoking positive “sublime” emotional responses as well as different psychological benefits or “rewards”, indicating that people do not exclusively listen to sad music for hedonic reasons, but also because it has a positive impact on their well-being (and this was actually indicated as the primary motivation to engage with sad music). For example, listeners report that sad music can provide solace and comfort in the absence of social support or during emotional distress, almost as a surrogate for an empathic friend. I believe that investigating such effects of sad music is extremely important because this knowledge can be harnessed to improve emotional well-being in healthy individuals and to tailor novel intervention strategies in clinical populations.