Empathy and music

empathy is music

           Emily Carlson, a PhD student in the Department of Music, Arts and Culture at the University of Jyväskylä, talked about empathy and pro-social behavior in relation to music. Upon hearing about researches on how participation in music may increase empathy, pro-social behavior, or cooperation in children, I couldn’t help but try to search for more. Since I have always approached music in a non-academic way, it was a new experience for me to find studies and researches on what I might have also experienced with music.

           In the spring semester, I also took part in the MoCap research, measuring my movement and task completion with a partner in the Musica building of the department. I remember how it was a silent disco experiment, where my friend and I danced each to our own music through different headphones. I saw that we had different headphones, and as the experiment went on, I asked myself, “Are we listening to different music?” This was because my friend was dancing quite differently to how I would dance. However, there were times when we felt synchronized, and I remember her trying to copy me, while I also managed to copy her movements. Looking back on the experience, this was us trying to share and empathize with music through dancing.

dancing gif

           According to Rabinowitch and Meltzoff (2017), such synchronized movements with 4-year-old children could help them improve task completion through enhanced cooperation. If it was possible with preschool children, I think it would have similar results with me and my friend during our experiment as well. On the other hand, there is also a study showing that empathy can lead to better ability to perceive rhythm in music. Bamford and Davidson (2017) suggest that empathy and moving to the rhythm uses similar regions in the brain, so with more empathy, participants could adjust better to quick tempo. These results support how music can be utilized to induce more empathy for subjects with autism (Koehne et al., 2016) or to treat epilepsy (Maguire, 2017), specifically looking at cognitive processes according to rhythm and music synchronicity.

           To sum up, a lot of research could validate and justify my pleasant experience with music. As I study sport psychology, I feel that these various forms of art therapy (especially music therapy) could be applicable in my field as well. It was very beneficial to learn about empathy and cooperative behavior in relation to music and musical aspects.



Bamford, J. M. S., & Davidson, J. W. (2017). Trait Empathy associated with Agreeableness and rhythmic entrainment in a spontaneous movement to music task: Preliminary exploratory investigations. Musicae Scientiae, 1029864917701536.

Koehne, S., Hatri, A., Cacioppo, J. T., & Dziobek, I. (2016). Perceived interpersonal synchrony increases empathy: insights from autism spectrum disorder. Cognition, 146, 8-15.

Maguire, M. (2017). Music Therapy for Epilepsy. Musik-, Tanz-und Kunsttherapie.

Rabinowitch, T. C., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2017). Synchronized movement experience enhances peer cooperation in preschool children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 160, 21-32.


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