New research published in Cognition and Emotion investigated the possibility that psychopathic traits would inhibit one’s ability to experience or identify emotions in music. The findings indicate that, as predicted, individuals who have psychopathic traits are less likely to correctly identify emotions conveyed in music. This research provides another clue to the challenges individuals with psychopathic traits may have identifying and experiencing emotion.
Previous research exploring the relationship between psychopathic traits and emotion has predominantly focused on facial signals, underestimating the complexity of emotional communication. However, music can evoke powerful emotional responses and represents a promising stimulus for studying individual emotional processing differences. Psychopathy, characterized by extreme personality and behavioral features, is associated with difficulties recognizing and responding to emotional cues.
The new research investigates whether psychopathic traits are related to differences in recognizing and resonating with emotional music. The authors hypothesized that individuals with higher levels of psychopathic traits would have difficulty recognizing and resonating with emotional cues in music, as these individuals often exhibit deficits in emotional processing.
The research team conducted two experiments, each with two independent samples recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and Cloud Research. The first experiment included 393 adults, while the second included 378 adults. Participants completed an online music emotion listening task that involved listening to 21 music clips that conveyed calm, sad, or fearful emotions. After each clip, participants rated the intensity of the emotion conveyed and their emotional response to the clip.
Psychopathic traits were measured using the Self-Report of Psychopathy-Short Form. The assessment covers various aspects of psychopathy, including interpersonal manipulation, callousness, egocentricity, and antisocial behavior. Participants in Experiment 2 also completed a questionnaire that collected data regarding how often they listened to music and which emotions they believed music can convey and which they feel when listening to music.
Analysis of the data indicates that individuals with higher levels of psychopathic traits had difficulty recognizing and resonating with emotions conveyed through music. Specifically, these individuals had lower accuracy in identifying the emotional content of the music clips and reported lower emotional responses to the clips. The findings were consistent across both experiments and were not influenced by demographic factors such as age, gender, or ethnicity.
“These differences were especially robust in response to fearful music and music with a slower tempo,” the authors wrote.
The research team suggests that the difficulties in recognizing and resonating with emotions conveyed through music may reflect a broader deficit in emotional processing characteristic of psychopathy. The authors also noted that the study has important implications for using music in therapeutic interventions, as individuals with psychopathic traits may not benefit from music-based interventions like individuals without these traits.
However, the study also had some limitations that should be considered. First, the study relied on self-report measures of psychopathic traits, which may be subject to bias and may not accurately reflect the true level of psychopathy in the sample. Second, the study was conducted online, which may have introduced additional sources of variability and noise into the data. It is also important to note the the study examined psychopathic tendencies, which is not the same as studying individuals diagnosed with clinical psychopathy (antisocial personality disorder).
Nevertheless, the study provides important insights into the relationship between psychopathic traits and emotional processing in the context of music. The findings suggest that individuals with higher psychopathic traits may have difficulty recognizing and resonating with emotions conveyed through music, reflecting a broader deficit in emotional processing. The study has important implications for using music in therapeutic interventions and highlights the need for further research to understand better the emotional deficits associated with psychopathy.
The study, ““But not the music”: Psychopathic traits and difficulties recognizing and Resonating with the emotion in music,” was authored by R. C. Plate, C. Jones, S. Zhao, M. W. Flum, J. Steinberg, G. Daley, N. Corbett, C. Neumann, and R. Waller.