Emotional responses to music: the essential inclusion of emotion adaptability and situational context

Marco Susino*, William Forde Thompson, Emery Schubert, Mary Broughton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The link between music and emotion, as articulated from a cognitive perspective, assumes that music carries expressive cues that convey or induce emotional responses in listeners. Studies following this paradigm often investigate how responses converge or diverge among individuals, social groups, and cultures. However, results vary from one study to another, with few satisfactory explanations as to why. We contend that emotional responses to music are adaptable, arising from a conscious and subconscious continuous processing of the overarching situational context and its interaction with psychophysical, cultural, and personal variables. By integrating theory and data from multiple domains, we present the Framework for Adaptable Musical Emotions (FAME), which explains emotional responses to music through the mechanism of emotion adaptability on a continuum of evolutionary to fleeting time frames. FAME represents an advance on models of music and emotion that primarily focus on decoding emotional signals from the sounded music. FAME provides the first basis for predictions of emotional adaptability and situational context and may explain previously observed variability in emotional responses to music, guiding future research, and novel understandings.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEmpirical Studies of the Arts
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Apr 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • adaptive processes
  • aesthetics
  • affect
  • emotion
  • music
  • situational context


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