ICMPC15 – Reliable Psychophysiological Changes to Music listening

A talk and a poster discussed a number psychophysiological responses to music, specifically events measurable over repeated listenings in skin conductance, respiration rate, heart rate, and zygomaticus and corrugator contractions. The talk explains how Activity Analysis can be applied to these responses in order to identify reliable reactions to musical stimuli, and the poster shares some of the consistencies and inconsistencies we can find in different listeners’ responses through these signals.

Demo: Activity Analysis on Psychophysiological Measures of Responses to Music

Download the slides (pdf)


Continuous measurements of responses are particularly useful for music cognition as our experience develops during the presentation of this powerful stimulus. And yet, responses can vary substantially, and psychophysiological measurements are particularly noisy. Multiple studies have identified changes in psychophysiological states with the presentation of music, but identifying when changes are triggered is not a simple task, even with rapid changing signals like skin conductance, heart rate, and respiration.

Activity Analysis is a new analysis paradigm developed specifically for music research that focuses on response events and their co-occurrence across multiple listenings to the same stimulus, whether by different listeners to a live performance or repeated listenings by a single participant to recorded music. This approach accommodates the extraneous information in continuous measurements of response and leads to new results from these complex signals, including statistical assessment of coherence between responses at specific moments in music. It supports response-led exploration of the stimuli as well as addressing questions of whether and how individual pieces are coordinating the experiences of listeners.


To demonstrate the application of Activity Analysis with the MatLab toolbox on collections of psychophysiological responses from repeated response experiments.

Main Content

This demo will introduce Activity Analysis, demonstrate the visualisation capabilities of this approach to continuous responses, and apply tests of coordination to skin conductance, heart rate, and respiration belt measurements from audience response collections and repeated response collections. Particular attention will be paid to the local coordination test, which identifies when responses are in significant alignment with the music. All to be discussed is the process of determining appropriate parameters for coordination testing of response events such as orienting responses in skin conductance, along with the implications of a lack of measurable coordination in response activity.

Implications for practice

Activity Analysis may be very useful for the study of responses to music, allowing researchers to pin point when changes in responses occur and whether the timing of changes might be expected to replicate. With the MatLab toolbox, these techniques can be readily applied to existing data sets as well as future experiments.

Value for this conference

Activity Analysis can be applied to a number experiments reported at ICMPC and conducted in labs associated with many related organizations. The relationship between music and listeners bodily responses is a long-standing but still growing area of research and tools for the exploration of experimental data are needed along side methods for testing specific hypotheses.


Upham, F., & McAdams, S. (2018). Activity analysis and coordination in continuous responses to music.Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 35(3), 253-294.

Upham, F. (2016) ActivityAnalysisToolbox_2.0. GitHub repository, https://github.com/finn42/ActivityAnalysisToolbox_2.0

Felt It My Way: Idiosyncratic Psychophysiological Responses to Recorded Music

Download the poster (pdf)


Psychophysiological responses to music have been studied from decades, but the focus has typically been on common response patterns across listeners. The Repeated Response paradigm, recording a participant’s responses to a set playlist of stimuli over multiple listenings, allows for more in depth considerations of responses typical of individual listeners. Repeated exposures to the same stimuli have been associated with desensitization (Grewe, Nagel, Kopiez, & Altenmüller, 2007) as well as sensitization in increased coordination (Sato, Ohsuga, & Moriya, 2012). Either way, there is an opportunity to capture consistencies tied to individual participants musical histories and inclinations that can easily be lost when looking for agreement across a population or audience.


Identify consistency and coordination in individual participants psychophysiological responses to music and consider the contrasts between participants’ responses to pieces of music.


Five participants heard the same six pieces of music 12 times over several weeks. During these listenings, skin conductance, finger temperature, heart rate, respiration, and facial muscle sEMG (Zygomaticus, Corrugator) were recorded continuously. Using activity analysis, we evaluated first which responses showed significantly coordinated in music relevant response events per participant. When participants showed coordination, their moments of consistency were compared to see whether they aligned or contrasted.


Preliminary results show that participants vary how well their responses are coordinated between listenings and which response measures show the most coordination. For example, two participants showed very high respiratory coordination but different patterns of consistency in finger temperature decreases. Besides the overall pattern of disagreement, specific results will be shared on responses to specific works, including a late Beethoven String Quartet excerpt and a Dubstep track.


Listeners can show some shared patterns of behaviour to music, but they also develop idiosyncratic response sequences to pieces they come to know. This is not only measurable in post-stimulus ratings and preference but also in the sensitivity, reliability, and timing of changes in their psychophysiological responses.


Grewe, O., Nagel, F., Kopiez, R., Altenmüller, E. (2007). Listening to music as a re-creative process: Physiological, psychological, and psychoacoustical correlates of chills and strong emotions. Music Perception, 24(3), 297-314.

Sato, T. G., Ohsuga, M., and Moriya, T. (2012). Increase in the timing coincidence of a respiration event induced by listening repeatedly to the same music track. Acoustical Science and Technology, 33(4):255–261.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s