Previous music and emotion literature has focused on emotional responses in the individual, while he or she is alone and listening to music. However, music is often experienced in a social context- think pubs, clubs and festivals. With this in mind, the influence of a social setting on the emotional responses to music needs to be considered.
Research has largely ignored the influence of social factors on emotions (Manstead, 2005). This is unfortunate, as music is commonly associated with many social aspects apparent in everyday life (North & Hargreaves, 2008). For example, peer groups are known to influence the musical preferences of adolescents (Müller, Glogner, & Rhein, 2007) and the social bonding aspects of music have been suggested as the origins of music (Cross, 2009; Freeman, 2000; McNeill, 1995).
Empirical studies have been able to demonstrate supporting evidence in favour of a social bonding hypothesis. For example, Kirschner & Tomasello (2009, 2010) showed that children’s drumming synchronisation improved in a social setting and that joint musical activity improved pro-social and cooperative behaviour. For more information about this you can see my MSc dissertation.
Another experiment by Wiltermuth (2010) revealed that moving and singing in synchrony can lead an individual to better comply with another’s behavioural requests (even if for malicious reasons). Look at page 74 of the ICMPC11 conference proceedings page 74 of the ICMPC11 conference proceedings. Other experiments report on the emotional responses to music which occur within the presence of others. Research examining strong experiences with music (SEM) has found social context to be an influential factor effecting emotional experiences (Gabrielsson & Lindström Wik, 2003) and more recently Lamont (2009) found SEMs to occur during live concerts. This bring to question: how does the presence of others alter emotional experience during music listening?
Before proceeding, we must first ask ‘What are emotions?” That is, emotions can be understood from many different angles (models). One prominent model of emotion in music is the component process model by Scherer (2004). Under this model an emotion episode is triggered by a cognitive evaluation process and contains three reaction components: physiological arousal, motor expression and subjective feelings. Also, this model distinguishes between utilitarian and aesthetic emotions. These emotions differ based on their goal relevance. Utilitarian emotions help us adapt to events that have direct personal relevance to us, like those with important consequences for our wellbeing. Think of being scared of a tiger. Being scared prompts you for the fight-or-flight response and in turn directs your goal towards survival. In this way, utilitarian emotions lead to distinct and proactive changes in physiology and behaviour and incorporate such emotions as anger, fear, joy, disgust, sadness, shame, and guilt. These emotions and there adaptive consequences on our physiology and behaviour can result in action tendencies (such as the previously mentioned flight or flight). In contrast, aesthetic emotions lack this direct relevance and so lead to reactive physiological and behavioural changes. For example, the emotional response or ‘aesthetic experience’ of art is not influenced by the ability of the art to satisfy biological needs or to help us achieve a goal. So our the emotional reaction to art is a product of an appreciation for the intrinsic beauty of the work. Examples of aesthetic emotions include awe, wonder, and ecstasy (Scherer, 2004). This may help explain modern art’s argument of ‘art for art’s sake’.