Tune Yourself In: Valence and Arousal Preferences in Music-Listening Choices From Adolescence to Old Age

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In previous studies, older as compared with younger individuals were more strongly motivated to regulate their momentary affect toward pleasant and calm states. Whether these motivational differences are also reflected in regulatory behavior and whether this behavior is efficient in terms of affect change, however, is unclear. To address these issues, we conducted 3 studies with samples ranging in age from adolescence to old adulthood. In Study 1, we developed a novel and age-fair music browsing paradigm for music of diverse musical styles, dates of origin, and affective characteristics. The time spent listening to self-selected music with varying levels of valence and arousal served as an indicator of affect-regulatory preferences in 2 different affectively relevant situations, namely after mood induction in Study 2 and before an upcoming discussion with a stranger in Study 3. As predicted, we found a higher preference for music with positive valence and low arousal in older as compared with younger individuals in both studies. Additionally, the efficacy of music listening as an affect-regulatory strategy was supported because individuals’ current affect significantly changed from before to after music listening (Studies 2 and 3), whereas that was not the case in an active control group listening to neutral nonmusical sounds (Study 3). These results extend previous research on affect regulation by demonstrating the utility of the music browsing paradigm as a behavioral indicator of affect-regulatory preferences in individuals from various age groups. They also provide evidence for age differences in, and affect-regulatory effects of, music-choice behavior.

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