A systematic review on the neural effects of music on emotion regulation: Implications for music therapy practice

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80 Scopus citations


Background: Emotion regulation (ER) is an internal process through which a person maintains a comfortable state of arousal by modulating one or more aspects of emotion. The neural correlates underlying ER suggest an interplay between cognitive control areas and areas involved in emotional reactivity. Although some studies have suggested that music may be a useful tool in ER, few studies have examined the links between music perception/production and the neural mechanisms that underlie ER and resulting implications for clinical music therapy treatment. Objectives of this systematic review were to explore and synthesize what is known about how music and music experiences impact neural structures implicated in ER, and to consider clinical implications of these findings for structuring music stimuli to facilitate ER. Methods: A comprehensive electronic database search resulted in 50 studies that met predetermined inclusion and exclusion criteria. Pertinent data related to the objective were extracted and study outcomes were analyzed and compared for trends and common findings. Results: Results indicated there are certain music characteristics and experiences that produce desired and undesired neural activation patterns implicated in ER. Desired activation patterns occurred when listening to preferred and familiar music, when singing, and (in musicians) when improvising; undesired activation patterns arose when introducing complexity, dissonance, and unexpected musical events. Furthermore, the connection between music-influenced changes in attention and its link to ER was explored. Conclusions: Implications for music therapy practice are discussed and preliminary guidelines for how to use music to facilitate ER are shared.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)198-242
Number of pages45
JournalJournal of music therapy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Amygdala
  • Emotion regulation
  • Music
  • Neuroscience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Complementary and Manual Therapy
  • Music


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