Music as a Regulator of Emotion: Three Case Studies


  • Diana Christine Hereld University of California, San Diego Pepperdine University



This study explores music in the reduction of negative affect and emotion. Focusing on musical behavior in emotion regulation as it relates to trauma, this study investigates three questions: How do conscientious music listening practices impact the regulation of affect and self-harming impulses in individuals who experience trauma, mental illness, or self-destructive behavior? What aspects of musical intensity help alleviate anger, pain, sadness, despair, hopelessness, or suicidal ideation? How do participants use varied listening strategies to regulate and modulate negative affect and emotions?

Three case studies of two American females and one male aged 18-26 with history of a diagnosis of general anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, prior self-harm or suicidality, complex trauma, and PTSD are presented using a combined ethnographic approach, including survey administration, interviews, and phenomenological exploration. Through the review and thematic analysis of behavior in response to musical interaction both during and following traumatic life events, this study shows music is a successful tool for modulating overwhelming negative emotion, fostering hope and resilience, and circumventing self-destructive impulses. These results reveal potential for future research investigating the role of musical affect-regulation in both trauma recovery and reducing self-destructive behavior.

Author Biography

Diana Christine Hereld, University of California, San Diego Pepperdine University

Diana Hereld holds a Master of Arts in Music from the University of California, San Diego and is a doctoral student of clinical psychology at Pepperdine University.


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