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Do You Feel Sad and Blue Every Winter? You Probably Got the SAD!


As winter comes, a mental illness called seasonal affective disorder becomes more prevalent. Seasonal affective disorder (or SAD) is a variant of major depressive disorder that only appears in specific seasons throughout each year. SAD lasts for at least two years, and is completely remitted during other seasons. According to the statistics, around 5% of people in the world suffer from SAD and about 6% of the adults in the UK exhibit symptoms of SAD. SAD could start in summer, but the most common form of SAD that I’m going to focus on is named fall-onset SAD, which is also known as “winter depression”. Continue reading “Do You Feel Sad and Blue Every Winter? You Probably Got the SAD!”


Accessing our Long-Lost Present Moment


We spend almost half of our lives lost in thought, focusing on anything but the present moment (1). When we’re not busy escaping our present realities, we’re always doing something, never giving our minds a break from the world’s constant stimulation. Meditation is a tool that can be used to reconnect to this long-lost present moment. Continue reading “Accessing our Long-Lost Present Moment”

How does listening to music evoke emotion?


Ever listened to a piece of music and felt an intense emotional response? Many of you have probably had such an experience, be it listening to an orchestral piece swell as it reaches the climax, or listening to the latest dance/EDM song on the radio. Listening to music often induces different emotions in different individuals, which begs the question: why does music, which essentially consists of abstract sound sequences, touch us so deeply?

Emotions are commonly described as brief but intense reactions to events in the external or internal environment. Changes to one’s emotions may occur from moment to moment, and these changes can be captured along two dimensions: valence and arousal (Russell, 1980).


Previous studies have attempted to explain why music evokes emotion, as well as why the emotion produced may be of a specific type. The psychological process through which this is achieved is referred to as the underlying mechanism, and numerous mechanisms have been proposed over the last few decades. In an attempt to specify underlying mechanisms under a unified framework, Juslin and Västfjäll (2008) proposed the “BRECVEMA framework”, which currently includes eight different mechanisms.

Brain stem reflex refers to a process where emotions are evoked in the listener when exposed to sudden, loud, dissonant, or accelerating patterns of sound. A famous piece of music which may induce this reaction in a listener is Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 94 (2nd movement). Brain stem reflexes typically increase arousal and induce feelings of surprise in the listener (Juslin et al., 2014).

Rhythmic entrainment refers to a process where emotions are evoked through rhythms in music. The listener’s internal bodily rhythms, such as their heart rate, adjust towards and “lock in” to a common rhythm (Clayton et al., 2005). The adjusted heart rate can then spread to other components of emotion through “proprioceptive feedback.” Entrainment is enhanced by a marked pulse, evident in techno music, march music, and certain types of film music, such as Hans Zimmer’s No Time for Caution.

Evaluative conditioning refers to a certain aspect of the music, such as the melody, triggering a conditioned response or emotion in the listener. The use of melodic themes to evoke emotions associated with characters or events is a common feature of movie scores. A good example of this would be Rose’s Theme from the film Titanic.

Emotional contagion refers to a process where brain regions associated with premotor representations for vocal sound production respond to certain musical features, as if they were coming from a human voice expressing an emotion. This, therefore, induces emotions in the listener. Emotional contagion is possible since the majority of music heard today consists of vocals, but even voice-like features of a violin or a cello might arouse basic emotions such as sadness in listeners (Juslin et al., 2014).

Visual imagery refers to a process where emotions are evoked in the listener through conjuring of inner images. This is achieved through non-verbal mapping between the metaphoric quality of the music and “image-schemata” grounded in bodily experience (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980). Images are thus attached and linked to specific segments of music, which could explain why some individuals are able to conjure up music videos in their minds when listening to certain pieces of music.

Episodic memory refers to a process where music induces emotions through evoking a personal memory of a specific event in the person’s life (Baumgartner, 1992). When the memory is evoked, the associated emotion is evoked too. This can bring about feelings of nostalgia, and is suggested to be the most common source of emotion in daily life (Juslin et al., 2008).

Musical expectancy refers to a process where emotions are induced in a listener because a specific feature of the music violates, delays, or confirms the listener’s expectations about how the music will continue. The expectations are based on the listener’s previous experience of the same musical style (Pearce et al., 2010), and violation of expectancies may evoke anxiety, surprise, and thrill (Sloboda, 1991).

Aesthetic judgment refers to a process where emotions are evoked in the listener because of their evaluation of the music’s aesthetic value. Individuals impose their own aesthetic criteria on the piece of music, and decide whether they like it or not. Emotion is a possible additional outcome if the music is judged as extraordinarily good or bad. This mechanism may arouse emotions such as awe (Haidt & Seder, 2009).

In conclusion, different mechanisms can explain how and why individuals feel emotion when listening to music, therefore, before one can understand emotion in any given situation, it is necessary to know which of these mechanisms is in operation. So, the next time you find yourself feeling a surge of emotion when listening to a song, consider the above mechanisms and perhaps you’ll understand the reasons why.

This article was written by Wilson Lim and edited by Tia Foster. Both of them are members of the Bugle Team.



Baumgartner, H. (1992). Remembrance of things past: music, autobiographical memory, and emotion. Advances in Consumer Research, 19, 613–620.

Clayton, M., Sager, R. and Will, U. (2005). In time with the music: the concept of entrainment and its significance for ethnomusicology. European Meetings in Ethnomusicology, 11, 3–75.

Haidt, J. and Seder, P. (2009). Admiration and awe. In D. Sander and K.R. Scherer (Eds.), The Oxford companion to emotion and the affective sciences (pp. 4–5). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Juslin, P.N. (2000). Vocal expression and musical expression: parallels and contrasts. In A. Kappas (Ed.), Proceedings of the 16th Conference of the International Society for Research on Emotions (pp. 281–284). Quebec City: ISRE Publications.

Juslin, P. N. (2016). Emotional reactions to music. In Hallam S., Cross I., Thaut M. (Edts.), The Oxford Handbook of Music Psychology, 197-213.

Juslin, P.N., Harmat, L. and Eerola, T. (2014). What makes music emotionally significant? Exploring the underlying mechanisms. Psychology of Music, 42, 599–623.

Juslin, P.N. and Västfjäll, D. (2008). Emotional responses to music: the need to consider underlying mechanisms. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 31, 559–575.

Juslin, P.N., Liljeström, S., Västfjäll, D., Barradas, G. and Silva, A. (2008). An experience sampling study of emotional reactions to music: listener, music, and situation. Emotion, 8, 668–683.

Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Pearce, M.T., Ruiz, M.H., Kapasi, S., Wiggins, G.A. and Bhattacharya, J. (2010). Unsupervised statistical learning underpins computational, behavioural and neural manifestations of musical expectation. NeuroImage, 50, 302–313.

Plutchik, R. (1994). The psychology and biology of emotion. New York: Harper-Collins.

Russell, J.A. (1980). A circumplex model of affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 1161–1178.

Sloboda, J.A. (1991). Music structure and emotional response: some empirical findings. Psychology of Music, 19, 110–120.

The Neuroscience of Pleasure – A Guest Lecture Review


“The Neuroscience of Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll” – a tantalising talk held by Prof. Kringelbach at UCL – has shed valuable insight into the current neuroscientific research concerning “pleasure in the brain”. Prof. Kringelbach, a professor at Aarhus University as well as a Senior Research Fellow at Queen’s College, Oxford has dedicated his career to investigating the concepts of hedonia (pleasure) and eudaimonia (the life well-lived) and how each of these is affected in health and illness. It was an amazing talk organised by the UCL Neuroscience Society to kick start the academic year. It peaked everyone’s interest in a research area many of us had never considered before. Continue reading “The Neuroscience of Pleasure – A Guest Lecture Review”

A chimp known as David: Can anthropomorphism help to solve the current environmental crisis?


Heartless betrayal, gut-wrenching brutality, and gritty determination; Dynasties aired for the first time on Sunday 11 November and, as expected, it was an emotional experience. This much-anticipated addition to BBC Earth’s wildlife docuseries collection follows Blue Planet II, which became the most watched television show of 2017 (“Blue Planet II tops 2017 TV rating”, 2018). Each series in the collection, narrated by naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, finds a new way to tell the stories of creatures around the world fighting for survival against the elements and, increasingly, the careless and destructive actions of humans. Indeed, the final episode of Blue Planet II focused entirely on how the repercussions of human actions are felt throughout the ocean, including the harrowing depiction of an albatross killed after swallowing a plastic toothpick (Doherty & Ridgeon, 2017).

Continue reading “A chimp known as David: Can anthropomorphism help to solve the current environmental crisis?”

“Children never lie”: A review of the movie ‘The Hunt’


An extreme but common statement which can be seen throughout the media is that “children never lie” (Ceci & Leichtman, 1992). However, as research has consistently demonstrated, this statement is incorrect. When it comes to situations where a child is the only witness of a legal case, a lie told by the child can have a tremendous impact on the final conviction. A 2012 Danish feature film The Hunt (Jagten), directed by Thomas Vinterberg, demonstrates the story of an innocent man suffering from a false accusation of child sexual abuse. Continue reading ““Children never lie”: A review of the movie ‘The Hunt’”

Under the Ecsta-sea: Uncovering the Origins of Social Behaviour and its Clinical Applications


One of the best things about psychology is the range of experiment opportunities available to us, from classic word association tests to giving octopuses mandy. Yes, you read that correctly. Edsinger and Dölen (who arguably may or may not have been on some kind of substance themselves) gave 4 octopuses a dose of MDMA in a bid to uncover the origins of social behaviour. The rationale behind this- yes, unfortunately it wasn’t just about letting octopuses have a good time- being that the neurotransmitter serotonin is implicated in sociality in both vertebrates and invertebrates, suggesting its function has been conserved throughout evolution. To test this, octopuses, who are primarily antisocial and solitary (except whilst mating, showing these social mechanisms are present, but suppressed) were used. If they reacted to MDMA in a similar way to humans (e.g. increased need for social interaction), this would show that there are links between the social behaviours of humans and octopuses, links which have been conserved for over 500 million years.

Continue reading “Under the Ecsta-sea: Uncovering the Origins of Social Behaviour and its Clinical Applications”

Can wearing red increase your chance of winning?


We all want to believe that our favourite sports teams’ victories are based on their sheer superiority to others; that it is solely their greater physical endurance, skill and mental agility that puts them ahead of everyone else. Why else would Rafael Nadal come back from near defeat against Roger Federer to ultimately claim the Wimbledon title were it not for his undying mental determination? Well, in an ideal world such outcomes of sporting contests really should be determined by the players’ performance alone. However, in reality, a plethora of extraneous factors may influence such outcomes at a small but nonetheless significant level. As an example, research conducted by Nevill et al. (2002) showed that crowd noise could subtly affect referee decision making to favour the home team, thereby influencing who wins the game.

Continue reading “Can wearing red increase your chance of winning?”

Can Language Affect Our Emotions, Thoughts, and Decisions?


Editor’s note: The hypotheses discussed below were previously considered in our blog from a different viewpoint, see 


“Uitwaaien”, the energizing feeling from a walk in the wind. “Itsuarpok”, the anticipation and uneasiness one feels when waiting for someone. “Gigil”, the irresistible urge to squeeze or pinch someone because they are cherished. The majority of us probably do not recognize the meanings of these words, let alone understand them. Yet these words are real and untranslatable in their very own languages and not capable of being synonymous with words of other languages. A mind-boggling question that has puzzled philosophers, psychologists and linguists for centuries is whether our language has an effect on our thoughts. The first to come up with a hypothesis known as “linguistic relativity” was Benjamin Whorf, an American linguist. Is it possible that we are blinded to certain emotions because of our languages? Could we be seeing the world through a narrow peephole confined to the restraints set out by linguistic rules that we ourselves agreed upon in society?

Continue reading “Can Language Affect Our Emotions, Thoughts, and Decisions?”

The Facial Feedback Hypothesis – A Shortcut to Happiness?


How to be happy? It’s a question pondered for centuries by philosophers, behavioral scientists and commoners alike. According to Aristotle, the answer lay in developing the right kind of character and behaving virtuously. Later, Bentham suggested that we use felicific calculus to determine the amount of pleasure to be derived from a particular action before deciding to proceed. More recently, meditation, eating healthily, and staying active have been added to the list. But what if all this is too complicated? What if you really want to use plastic straws, can’t do math, and hate vegetables? What if what you really need is a quick fix (that won’t give you a nosebleed or make you vomit)? The facial feedback hypothesis may offer a solution.
Continue reading “The Facial Feedback Hypothesis – A Shortcut to Happiness?”

The Killer Ape Hypothesis: inhumane by design?


“[…] you are just an ape. A violent ape.” – ‘Automata’

Our ancestors witnessed two primordial revolutions: tools, and fire (Burton, 2011). Inadvertently or otherwise, they gave rise to vast human migration across the planet, the advent of early language, the generational transmission of knowledge and, ultimately, our unrivalled intelligence. Our path from being ‘just another ape’, without much significance or ecological impact, to the species we are today has been one fraught with obstacles; a miracle of design, millions of years in the making.

Continue reading “The Killer Ape Hypothesis: inhumane by design?”

Your Memory Defines You — A Review of ‘Coco’

The movie Coco won the best-animated film at Oscars 2018 lately and was rated very high on IMDB. I watched the movie last week with my friends and we all burst into tears during several scenes.

Continue reading “Your Memory Defines You — A Review of ‘Coco’”

Worrying About Everything and Nothing – What is worry?

Who has never been worried? This is perhaps a trivial question, because we all worry or overthink at some point. In this sense, worrying seems to be a normal phenomenon and a critical part of our daily thoughts. Not only is it normal, but it also has a purpose, as it helps us to anticipate threats and prepare for future challenges. Over three decades ago, a group of researchers defined worry as a “chain of thoughts and images, negatively affect-laden and relatively uncontrollable”. According to them, worrying represents an attempt to mentally solve an issue whose future outcome is uncertain, but that contains the possibility of one or more negative outcomes. Hence, to a certain extent, worrying derives from fear (Borkovec, Robinson, Puzinsky and DePree, 1983). Taking this information together, we can define worry as everything that goes through our mind that helps us solve our problems, regardless of how serious they are.

Continue reading “Worrying About Everything and Nothing – What is worry?”

The Psychology of Procrastination

As exam season and deadlines loom ever closer, so too does the likelihood of procrastination – or “voluntarily [delaying] an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay” (Steel, 2007).

Continue reading “The Psychology of Procrastination”

Psychological or Physiological: Memory Loss in Elderly

A common sign of aging is an increased frequency of forgetting. However, in unfortunate cases, this could be a more severe case of memory loss as a result of more concerning illnesses – two of which are depression and dementia. It is imperative to distinguish these two disorders that present themselves similarly, so that memory loss in elderly is not misdiagnosed and can be treated effectively to improve the patient’s quality of life.

Continue reading “Psychological or Physiological: Memory Loss in Elderly”

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