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October 2021

Relationships between elements of music and the skin conductance and heart rate responses of listeners

Abstract: The purpose of the study was to determine the relationships among several elements of music and skin conductance level and heart rate of listeners. Subjects were 38 university male and female students not majoring in music, ages 20-25. Testing took place in an acoustically-controlled psychophysiology laboratory. A pilot study was conducted to determine the eventual purpose and methods to be used in the main study. Results indicated that there were significant indications of concurrent relationships among several elements of music and respiration of subjects. In the main study, subjects listened to a recording of music and of white noise. The music was "The cowboy's overture" by John Williams. It was selected due to its wide distribution of musical elements (such as dynamics, tempo, mode). The music was not selected for the purpose of predicting physiological responses. The intensity (dB) level changes in the presentation of white noise were matchedto the corresponding db changes in the music. All subjects heard the music and the noise. A counter-balanced design was used so that half of the subjects heard the music first, while the other half heard the noise first. Measurements of skin conductance level (SCL) and heart rate (HR) were recorded at 5-second intervals for each subject during a 2-minute baseline of silence, followed by either the music or noise condition. SCL responses were recorded by a J & J biofeedback unit interfaced with a microcomputer. HR's were measured by a portable HR measuring unit and were recorded by hand. Raw data from the measurements were analyzed statistically through use of a mainframe computer. Mean scores for each physiological parameter by condition were computed for each of the 38 subjects. A multiple regression design was employed for statistical analysis. Findings indicate that: (1) SCL during both music and noise conditions was moderately, yet significantly correlated with db change levels (r=.47, p <.001). (2) SCL for music was highly and significantly correlated to tempo (r= .76, p <.001). (3) SCL for music and noise was very highly and significantly correlated (r=.91, p <.001). Additional findings indicated that HR for music was moderately yet significantly correlated to db (r=.56, p <.001) as well as tempo (r=.42, p <.001). No significant correlation was found between conditions for heart rate scores. When a critical analysis for the musical score was compared with a composite tracing of the physiological responses, musical factors other than loudness and tempo were found to be related to SCL habituation, SCL increase, and HR acceleration. These included: frequent modulation, meter changes, melodic variety, rapidly rising scale passages, and changes in orchestration. This comparative analysis revealed further that other musical factors which were related to SCL decrease and HR deceleration were cadences, ritardandos, static string textures, and slow harmonic movement. The results of this study indicated that physiological changes of SCL and HR among listeners are related to specific musical elements at relatively specific points in the temporal span of a given musical composition. The method of investigation employed in this study appears to be successful insofar as it exposed a number of specific time-relationships between music and physiology.

Note: skin-conductance-level, musical-elements.

Keyword(s): college-students, intensity, music, tempo, heart-rate.

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