Music in Mood Regulation Scale: The 7 Categories

The emotions evoked by music don’t just feel good — they’re healthy for you, too. A meta-analysis of 400 music studies found that listening to music has the ability to reduce anxiety, fight depression and boost the immune system. Clinical music therapists have even started popping up, prescribing music for everything from Alzheimer’s to autism spectrum disorder (in addition to other treatments, of course).

But can the emotions associated with music ever be harmful?

A research team at the Center for Interdisciplinary Music Research at the University of Jyväskylä, the University of Helsinki and Aalto University in Finland recently published a study in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. The team, led by doctoral student Emily Carlson, wanted to examine whether modulating emotions via music could potentially harm a person’s mental health.

The answer? Yes. Sometimes.

In the study, researchers performed psychological testing on a total of 123 patients between the ages of 18 and 55, approximately half of which were women. Participants were asked a series of questions about their mental health. Scientists then used their answers to evaluate each participant’s level of depression, anxiety and neuroticism.

Participants were also evaluated on something known as the Music in Mood Regulation scale, or MMR. According to the MMR, the way individuals regulate their mood with music can be divided into seven categories: Entertainment, Revival, Strong Sensation, Mental Work, Solace, Diversion and Discharge. The latter three categories (Solace, Diversion and Discharge) are all ways in which individuals can use music to regulate negative emotions.

With Solace, people listen to music that matches their emotional state, e.g., sad music if they are sad. Individuals who listen to music for solace use that music to feel understood and less alone. For instance, a person with depression might listen to a song about living with the illness and find comfort in it.

With Diversion, people listen to music to distract themselves from their bad mood. This music does not need to match their mental state. For instance, a person who is anxious might sing along to a happy song until the anxiety dissipates.

With Discharge, people listen to music that matches their emotional state to better express that emotion. For instance, a person who is frustrated might sing along to angry music to provide an outlet for that frustration.

According to the study, men (but not women) who used the Discharge method of listening to music had greater levels of anxiety and neuroticism than the other participants. In other words, venting negative emotions through music doesn’t help alleviate those negative emotions — in fact, it may even make them worse.

Music is a coping mechanism, and — unfortunately — not all coping mechanisms are good. For instance, using venting and rumination as coping mechanisms relate positively to depression and other mood disorders. Using distraction and positive reappraisal (or “looking on the bright side”), meanwhile, is negatively correlated with depression.

SOURCE: Lopresti, C. (2016) “Music’s Power Explained” Psychology Today

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