Cognitive Processing

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 133–139 | Cite as

Sadness and happiness are amplified in solitary listening to music

  • Jinfan Zhang
  • Taoxi Yang
  • Yan Bao
  • Hui Li
  • Ernst Pöppel
  • Sarita Silveira
Short Communication


Previous studies have shown that music is a powerful means to convey affective states, but it remains unclear whether and how social context shape the intensity and quality of emotions perceived in music. Using a within-subject design, we studied this question in two experimental settings, i.e. when subjects were alone versus in company of others without direct social interaction or feedback. Non-vocal musical excerpts of the emotional qualities happiness or sadness were rated on arousal and valence dimensions. We found evidence for an amplification of perceived emotion in the solitary listening condition, i.e. happy music was rated as happier and more arousing when nobody else was around and, in an analogous manner, sad music was perceived as sadder. This difference might be explained by a shift of attention in the presence of others. The observed interaction of perceived emotion and social context did not differ for stimuli of different cultural origin.


Emotion Music perception Social context Attention Sadness Happiness 



This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 91120004 and 31371018) to Yan Bao, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to Yan Bao, Hanns Seidel Foundation to Jinfan Zhang and Sarita Silveira, and the China Scholarship Council to Taoxi Yang (No. [2014]3026) and Hui Li (No. [2009]3003).


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Copyright information

© Marta Olivetti Belardinelli and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jinfan Zhang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Taoxi Yang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Yan Bao
    • 1
    • 2
  • Hui Li
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ernst Pöppel
    • 1
    • 2
  • Sarita Silveira
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, and Beijing Key Laboratory of Behaviour and Mental HealthPeking UniversityBeijingPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Institute of Medical Psychology and Human Science CenterLudwig-Maximilian UniversityMunichGermany

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