The Experience of Music in Aphantasia: Emotion, Reward, and Everyday Functions

Hashim, Sarah; Pulcini, Claudia; Jansari, Ashok S.; Küssner, Mats B. and Omigie, Diana. 2024. The Experience of Music in Aphantasia: Emotion, Reward, and Everyday Functions. Music & Science, 7, ISSN 2059-2043 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Visual imagery has been proposed to be one of eight mechanisms by which music induces emotion in listeners. Initial research into aphantasia, a condition referring to individuals who do not (or only minimally) form visual imagery in their mind's eye, suggests that aphantasics may experience reduced emotional experiences in response to imagined stimuli. In this two-part online investigation, we sought to explore the emotional experiences of aphantasics within the context of music listening. In Survey 1, we compared 51 aphantasics to 51 control individuals in terms of their experiences of visual imagery, liking, and felt emotional intensity when listening to three film music excerpts. We found significant group differences in terms of visual imagery and felt emotional intensity, but not liking. In Survey 2, we examined aphantasics’ ability to recognize emotions conveyed by music, and their patterns of experience of, and engagement with, music in everyday life by comparing the responses of 29 aphantasics with 29 matched controls. We found no differences in terms of emotion discrimination ability. However, aphantasics generally experienced less Reminiscence (dimension from the Adaptive Functions of Music Listening scale) to music, as well as fewer Episodic Memories (dimension from the MecScale). Aphantasics and control listeners did not exhibit differences in terms of sensitivity to musical reward (measured using the BMRQ) or in terms of musical sophistication (measured using the Gold-MSI). Finally, our findings suggest nuanced differences between controls and those with pure and minimal aphantasia. In all, we reveal the influence that aphantasia can have on emotional responses to music and thus provide further evidence for the relationship between visual imagery and music-induced emotion.

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Funding: The article processing charge was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) – 491192747 and the Open Access Publication Fund of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

Data Access Statement:

The datasets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


Aesthetic appeal, aphantasia, emotion, memory, music listening, visual imagery

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30 September 2022Submitted
7 November 2023Accepted
12 January 2024Published

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Date Deposited:

14 Jun 2024 15:25

Last Modified:

14 Jun 2024 15:25

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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