York Music Psychology Group

Research to explain and understand musical behaviour and experience.

Replication study: Being Moved by Unfamiliar Sad Music Is Associated with High Empathy

We have chosen to replicate the study by Tuomas Eerola, Jonna Vuoskoski and Hannu Kautiainen who studied the relationship of high trait empathy levels in an individual and their response to unfamiliar sad music.


This study is a replication of the work by Eerola, Vuoskoski and Kautianinen testing the assumption that being moved by unfamiliar sad music is associated with high empathy. This replication has been designed using the theory, hypotheses and methods of the aforementioned study to inform the decisions made. However, due to some limitations in resources and other academic reasoning there have been some alterations to the design. This paper initially discusses the existing research and theory related to the study, such as trait theory, the theory that sad music elicits oxymoronic feelings of sadness that are pleasurable.

Previous explanations as to why this might be and why this research is new in terms of the use of unfamiliar sad music as a stimulus, thus nullifying many of the previous induction mechanisms and explanations. The experiment itself involved 25 participants completing self reports of mood before and after exposure to the musical stimulus, “Discovery of the Camp” from the Band of Brothers soundtrack (Kamen, 2001). To complement this data, physiological measurements, namely heart rate and skin conductance, were measured before and during exposure to the music. In order to identify individual differences, including the identification of those participants with high trait empathy, the interpersonal reactivity index (IRI) and the ten item personality inventory (TIPI) were used.

The results show that the items enthusiastic, alert and attentive on the positive and negative affect schedule (PANAS) showed  significant change. Also, both skin conductance and heart rate showed a significant response to the music. Thus, it was concluded that unfamiliar sad music does elicit a response and that this can also be interpreted as the participants feeling sadness and pleasure simultaneously as the hypothesis suggests. There are mixed results in terms of the influence of trait empathy. It appears that to be useful empathy must be treated as a complex behaviour that can only be discussed in terms of that which it comprises. Participants’ who score highly on the fantasy subscale also experience a significant change in heart rate in response to the music, likewise it can be seen that one of the subscales of empathy has a significant influence on changes in skin conductance; empathic concern.