Affective responses to music in depressed individuals : Aesthetic judgments, emotions, and the impact of music-evoked autobiographical memories

Sammanfattning: Music’s powerful influence on our affective states is often utilized in everyday life for emotion regulation and in music-therapeutic interventions against depression. Given this ability of music to influence emotions and symptoms in depressed people, it appears imperative to understand how these individuals affectively respond to music. The primary aim of this thesis is to explore whether depressed individuals have distinct affective responses to music, in terms of aesthetic judgments, emotional reactions, and emotion regulation. Furthermore, the thesis aims to provide possible explanations for such differences, in terms of underlying psychological processes (e.g., emotion-induction mechanisms) and depressive attributes (e.g., cognitive biases). Study I involves a music listening experiment exploring the relationship between depression and aesthetic judgments in music. Findings indicate that depression is associated with higher ratings of aesthetic judgment, accompanied by an enhanced reliance on the expressivity criterion. However, this relationship is not accompanied by an association between depression and the Openness to Experience personality factor. Study II investigates emotion regulation with music in depressed individuals, by means of a survey. The study features a novel conceptual framework for studying emotion regulation with music, grounded on the established process model of emotion regulation (Gross, 2008) in combination with the music-specific multi-level GSTM approach (van Goethem & Sloboda, 2011). Results indicate that depressed individuals do not differ from controls in their “active” emotional responding (i.e., emotion regulation) to music. Study III features an experiment comparing depressed to controls’ “passive” emotional responses (i.e., emotional reactions) to musical stimuli designed to activate specific mechanisms (i.e., Brain stem reflex, Contagion, and Episodic memory). Findings suggest that differences in emotional reactions occur with respect to episodic memory, potentially due to cognitive biases. Finally, Study IV follows up on these results and investigates the valence and specificity of music-evoked memories in depressed individuals. The study finds that depressed participants’ memories are negatively biased, but do not differ from controls’ in level of specificity. Together, the findings of this thesis suggest that music listening may have a dual potential for depressed individuals, functioning both as a beneficial resource for alleviating depressive symptoms (due to, e.g., elevated aesthetic appreciation of music) and as a contributing factor to depressive mood (due to, e.g., negatively biased memories).