Emotion Modulation through Music after Sadness Induction—The Iso Principle in a Controlled Experimental Study

Researcher: Dr. Katrin Starcke, SRH Berlin School of Popular Arts (SOPA)

Do you listen to happy music to feel better when you are sad? Dr. Katrin Starcke recently investigated this key concept of music therapy, called the Iso Principle. Read about her work hereopen in new window and see how she implemented this idea in a controlled study using Labvanced:

Tell us about your research background and your field of study.

My research background is psychology, and I am conducting experiments that include behavioral, subjective, and physiological responses towards stimuli. I currently investigate emotional and physiological reactions towards music. The current study which I conducted with Labvanced was about the possibility to regulate emotions with the help of music. More precisely, I examined the so called iso principle, which means that participants listen to music which matches their current mood first; and then gradually shift to music which represents a desired mood. The hypothesis is that the participants’ mood shifts with the music in the desired direction.

What motivated you to look into this area?

I have read that some music therapy manuals suggest that this iso principle works for patients with affective disorders; but scientific research is scarce. I wanted to investigate this music therapy principal systematically with a controlled experimental study.

What are you currently working on or have recently worked on that you'd like to discuss now with us?

With Labvanced I recently conducted this experimental study with which I examined the iso principle. This is the possibility to regulate emotions with music, which has been used in practice and in theory but not so much in experimental research. The research needs to catch up in order to see if this principle scientifically works.

Can you please describe the research design and how you set up the experiment?

In the study, only healthy participants took part (no patients with affective or other psychiatric disorders were included). They were exposed to a sadness induction, which means that they watched a sad film scene which decreased their positive affect and increased their negative affect. Thus, all participants were somewhat sad before listening to any music. Afterwards, they listened to music and I monitored whether the sadness decreased after music listening. For investigating whether the iso principle is effective, I divided the participants into four experimental groups and each group listened to two pieces of music. The music pieces which were either happy or sad pieces (Mozart, Strauss, Sinding, and Bruch). One group listened to two sad pieces; one group listened to two happy pieces; one group listened to a happy piece first and a sad piece afterwards; and one group listened to a sad piece first and a happy piece afterwards. The latter group was our iso group, as it included listening to music that matches their current sad emotional state (which was induced by the sad film) and afterwards listened to a music piece that represented a happy emotional state (the desired emotional outcome).

Tell us about your conclusion and the implications of that.

The results indicated that the iso principle might work. Participants of the iso group had the highest positive affect and the lowest negative affect at the end of the experiment. They were even in a better emotional state than participants who listened to two happy pieces of music. However, the difference between these two groups was not so big, so I need to conduct further standardized experiments to work on the iso principle.

What are your next steps with this research?

I plan to vary the pieces of music and increase the number of participants to receive more comprehensive results. I also would like to be able to investigate whether there might be effects of gender, age, personality, or music preferences.

In what ways is conducting research online different from in-lab?

For participants, it is very comfortable when they do not have to be in-lab; and during the Covid-19 crisis it is particularly important for us that our participants do not take any risk for attending research activities. On the other hand, there is fewer control over what the participants really do when they participate, so we cannot exclude artefacts which might have distorted results. Another point is that I usually measure physiological responses (such as heart rate or electrodermal activity), which is not possible during online research. But I hope that when I restart physiological measurements, I am able to combine the physiological measures with the exposure of stimuli via Labvanced. I hope that there are ways to combine the devices that we can for example set markers during physiological recordings supported by Labvanced.

Do you see online research as the future of your field?

Pure online research I do not consider as the future for all types of studies, as I am also interested in psychophysiological measurements which I cannot realize with pure online research. But those questions which can be addressed without physiology are very comfortable to address via online research and I hope to combine online supported stimulus presentation with offline tools such as physiology measurements.

What stands out to you about Labvanced?

The possibility to run the same experiment with different groups and the automated randomization was very helpful for us. I also liked the possibility to password-protect the experiment, which allows us to directly invite the participants which we would also invite in-lab.