Musical stimuli are among the most intensive stimuli triggering emotions. Therefore, we investigated in the present study whether subjects use music to regulate their emotions in everyday situations. We set out to examine whether dispositional emotional regulation styles are determining the situation-dependent choice of music. In a pre-study (N = 72), 20 music stimuli and 16 emotionally laden situations (on the dimensions valence and arousal) were determined. In the main study, 89 subjects (aged 20-30 years, no professional musicians, no hearing problems, no mental disorders, no substance abuse) were presented the music stimuli via head phones. They were indicating on a computerized visual analogue scale how likely they would choose these music stimuli in given emotionally laden situations. In addition, all subjects were asked to fill out the ‚Inventory for Regulation of Emotion‘ (IERW, Mohiyeddini, in prep.).
Analyses of our data by means of multidimensional scaling (MDS) show that specific music stimuli were preferred in emotionally congruent situations. This situation specificity could be explained by the two emotion dimensions valence and arousal. Furthermore, there were modulating influences of dispositional emotion regulation styles on individual music preference: e.g., the choice of positively evaluated music in situations characterized by negative valence, and high arousal is correlated with emotion moderating regulation style.
In this study, we were able to show that music is chosen in emotional situations in a very specific manner. What is more, we demonstrated that dispositional regulation styles might influence the choice of music pieces characterized by specific emotions. Our findings are among the first to elucidate the important role emotion regulation might play in the choice of music in everyday emotionally laden situations.