“Music is my drug”: Alexithymia, empathy, and emotional responding to music

Michael Lyvers*, Samantha Cotterell, Fred Arne Thorberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
713 Downloads (Pure)


Like alcohol or other drugs, music is often enjoyed by humans for its mood-altering effects. However, there is substantial individual variation in emotional responding to music (ERM). The present study investigated potential roles of trait variables in ERM. Recruitment and testing of 205 adult regular music listeners was accomplished online. They were asked to complete the Geneva Emotional Music Scale (GEMS) retrospectively by rating the felt intensity of 45 music-related emotions based on what they typically experienced when listening to their favorite music. They also completed instruments assessing traits of alexithymia, affect intensity, and empathy, as well as the Big Five factors. Alexithymia, affect intensity, and empathy, but not the Big Five, were moderately positively correlated with ERM as measured by GEMS. In a hierarchical regression, alexithymia and empathy were significant positive predictors of ERM after controlling for the other variables; extraversion was also significant in the final model. The role of empathy as a predictor of ERM was consistent with the emotional contagion interpretation of ERM. The unexpected positive relationship of alexithymia with ERM suggests that alexithymic listeners may rely on music to help them experience emotions more fully. Limitations and potential implications of the findings are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)626-641
Number of pages16
JournalPsychology of Music
Issue number5
Early online date19 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020


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