Happy vs. Angry vs. Sad vs. Calm music

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Happy vs. Angry vs. Sad vs. Calm music


This exploratory study was designed to determine the effects of background music of different valence on the perception of tearful faces and other emotional expressions. Participants (154 men, age range 9–64 years, and 208 women, age range 9–77 years) rated photographs of crying, smiling, anger expressing and yawning unique men and women (N = 12 each) on the following three dimensions: kindness, attractiveness and pleasantness, while concurrently being exposed to happy, angry, sad and calm music, or a no-music condition. Mixed models analysis revealed that observers made more favourable judgments about a crier when listening to sad and calm background music. This particularly concerned the ratings on the dimensions kindness and pleasantness, while calm music additionally increased ratings of attractiveness. Opposite effects were found for angry faces, for which lower ratings were obtained on all three dimensions with calm music. We speculate that calm background music may be helpful to boost social bonding and empathy, when people are in tears.

Happy, Calm, Angry & Sad music


Study found more positive ratings of crying faces on the dimensions of kindness and pleasantness, in particular when the background music was sad and/or calm, compared to no music. Calm music additionally increased ratings on attractiveness compared to no music. Surprisingly, pleasantness ratings of faces against a background of angry music were also increased. It may be that tears in an environment of anger appease the rater and the (normally negative) effect of angry music is thus countered. Calm rather than sad music yielded the most positive effect for attractiveness.

Kindness rating
Crying individuals are rated especially kind when observers are simultaneously exposed to sad or calm music, whereas calm music had opposite effects for the kindness ratings of angry faces.

Pleasantness ratings

Crying individuals were rated as more pleasant in the presence of calm, sad and angry background music compared to a no-music condition. When comparing the effects on ratings of crying and angry facial expressions, opposite effects were obtained for calm, angry and sad background music. More precisely, calm background music made angry faces less pleasant.

Attractiveness ratings
alm background music thus appears to make crying individuals more attractive, while it negatively affected judgments of attractiveness of angry faces. Very similar to our find- ings for kindness and pleasantness ratings, calm background music had opposite effects on the attractiveness ratings for angry (less attractive) and crying (more attractive) faces.

How to conduct similar music research for your brand



H1. Does calm and happy music  positively affect ratings of the crying image faces, compared to a no music condition?

H2. Does angry music  negatively affect ratings of the crying image faces, compared to a no music condition?

H3. Does sad music promote sympathy with criers, thus increasing judgments of kindness and pleasantness, while decreasing ratings of attractiveness?

H4. For the other three facial expressions, does happy and calm music  increase ratings on all three dimensions and does sad and angry music lower the ratings?

  • The experiment was conducted in a sound attenuated room
  • Photographs of 12 unique men and 12 unique women portraying the following four facial expressions: (1) smiling, (2) anger, (3) crying and (4) yawning, served as visual stimuli.
  • Participants rated photographs of crying persons on three dimensions: kindness, attractiveness and pleasantness, while concurrently listening to happy, angry, sad, and calm music and a no-music condition.
  • Pictures in additional emotional categories (smiling, anger, yawning) were used to compare with possible effects of music on judgments of crying.
  • All instrumental musical stimuli were taken from previous studies and were selected for their ability to induce to induce the following emotions: (1) happiness: Beethoven Symphony No. 6 Mvt. 3, (2) calmness: Chopin Nocturne op. 9 no. 2, (3) anger: Naked City Leng T’che, and (4) sadness: Rachmaninov Vocalise op. 30 no. 14.
  • Each participant heard all four pieces of music and also completed the no-music condition.





Rate each picture on three dimensions:
1. How kind do you find the person in the picture?
2.How pleasant do you find the person in the picture?
3.How attractive  do you find the person in the picture? 

All ratings were made on a scale ranging from 1 = not at all to 9 = very much

Additionally, as a manipulation check, at the end of each series of 4 pictures every time a piece of music was heard. All participants rated the back-ground music excerpts on the following four dimensions on 9-point Likert-scales: happy, calm, angry, sad.