Music Practice and Emotion Handling

  • Töres TheorellEmail author
  • Fredrik Ullén


Our main question is: is there any correlation between a life with music on one hand and ability to handle emotions on the other hand? In order to illuminate this question, we have performed a series of studies on the Swedish Twin Registry.

Our studies confirmed the expectation that a high level of musical activities throughout life, particularly if there has been ensemble playing or singing, was associated with good ability to handle emotions. We also found that the association between music practice and emotional skill was strongly influenced by genetic factors.

We found that there were statistically significant independent relationships between artistic achievement in general (writing, music, visual arts, theatre and dance) and the ability to handle emotions and those concomitant achievements in several forms of art added to one another from this point of view.

In separated qualitative interviews with monozygotic twin pairs who had had lifelong discordance with regard to music activity (piano playing), we showed that the discordance had arisen because of randomly occurring life conditions but also that the musically inactive twin talked longer and showed more evidence of sympathetic arousal during talk about childhood music experiences (uneasiness?) than the musically active partner did. As expected, the musically active twin had more diverse and detailed descriptions of music experiences that were related to flow.

The relationship was examined between the ability to handle emotions and objective measures of musicality (rhythm, melody and pitch) and likelihood of working in creative occupations. General intelligence was correlated with all three aspects of musicality. However, regardless of education, age and general intelligence, among men a high pitch score (good ability to differentiate high and low notes) was significantly associated with high likelihood of working in a creative occupation. Among women, the corresponding analysis showed that good ability to handle emotions (but not musicality) was associated with working in a creative occupation.


Alexithymia Twin research Artistic achievement Music Arousal 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute, Stress Research InstituteStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden
  2. 2.Department of NeuroscienceKarolinska InstitutetStockholmSweden

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