Is empathy involved in our emotional response to music? The role of the PRL gene, empathy, and arousal in response to happy and sad music

Sittler, Mareike C.; Cooper, Andrew and Montag, Christian. 2019. Is empathy involved in our emotional response to music? The role of the PRL gene, empathy, and arousal in response to happy and sad music. Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain, 29(1), pp. 10-21. ISSN 0275-3987 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Recent studies have shown that empathy is a potentially important factor in understanding the emotional impact of music. The aim of this study was to explore associations between empathy and felt/perceived emotions while listening to music. The assessment of empathy was undertaken using the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI). As earlier work has suggested that prolactin could be an important hormone in enhancing empathy while listening to sad music, we investigated whether two genetic polymorphisms located on the PRL gene (coding for prolactin) could explain individual differences in reactions to listening to music. N = 160 participants were recruited for this study. All participants provided buccal swabs for genetic analysis. All participants listened to 10 sad and 10 happy musical excerpts, and after each song they reported the emotion they felt or perceived. Several significant associations appeared between empathy and the felt/perceived emotions while listening to music. With respect to the genetic markers, an effect of one prolactin polymorphism (rs1205960) was shown. TT/TC carriers reported significantly lower arousal levels compared to the CC carriers after having heard the happy and sad music. The results from this study showed that i) empathy is involved in the process of perceiving and feeling emotions while listening to music and ii) prolactin might play a role in eliciting different emotional reactions, based on arousal level, while listening to happy or sad music. Finally, we report non-significant findings in relation to three SNPs from the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR), which are presented in the supplementary material.

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©2019. American Psychological Association
"This article may not exactly replicate the authoritative document published in the APA journal. It is not the copy of record."


empathy, music, emotions, PRL gene

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10 January 2019Accepted
February 2019Published Online
March 2019Published

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Date Deposited:

15 Feb 2019 12:58

Last Modified:

11 Jun 2021 19:46

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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