Music and emotion: Electrophysiological correlates of the processing of pleasant and unpleasant music


  • We thank Sven Gutekunst for his technical support during the preparation of this experiment, Sylvia Stasch for her great help during data acquisition, Kerstin Flake for her assistance with the figures, and Nikolaus Steinbeis and Katrin Schulze for fruitful discussion. Furthermore, we thank the editor and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on a former version of this article.
    Examples of the stimuli are available at

Address reprint requests to: Daniela Sammler, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Junior Research Group “Neurocognition of Music”, Stephanstrasse 1a, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany. E-mail:


Human emotion and its electrophysiological correlates are still poorly understood. The present study examined whether the valence of perceived emotions would differentially influence EEG power spectra and heart rate (HR). Pleasant and unpleasant emotions were induced by consonant and dissonant music. Unpleasant (compared to pleasant) music evoked a significant decrease of HR, replicating the pattern of HR responses previously described for the processing of emotional pictures, sounds, and films. In the EEG, pleasant (contrasted to unpleasant) music was associated with an increase of frontal midline (Fm) theta power. This effect is taken to reflect emotional processing in close interaction with attentional functions. These findings show that Fm theta is modulated by emotion more strongly than previously believed.