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Musical Intensity in Affect Regulation: Uncovering Hope and Resilience Through Heavy Music


This thesis discusses the nature of music’s impact on identity, subjectivity, and the self. To better understand music’s role in promoting hope and resilience, I pinpoint how heavy, intense, and highly emotive music applied over distinct listening practices impacts the regulation of affect and self-destructive impulses in individuals who suffer from trauma, mental illness, or self-destructive behavior. This research also investigates the characteristic of intensity often found in heavy music that seems (despite intuition) to ease negative or painful emotions, circumvent impulses to self-harm, and propel one to positive action.

Of particular interest to this project are the ways both heavy and non-genre specific music listeners use various listening strategies in the regulation and modulation of negative affect and emotion. Specifically highlighted are the three strategies defined by Saarikallio (2008) in the Music in Mood Regulation (MMR) scale of using music to cope with negative mood states: Diversion, where music is used to distract from negative thoughts and feelings, Solace, where music is used for comfort, acceptance, and understanding when feeling sad or troubled, and Discharge, where anger or sadness are released through music.

Through review and analysis of existing literature, qualitative research, and in-depth case studies, this thesis illuminates the ways musically-afforded emotion-regulation strategies allow subjects to meet, shape, and transform their difficult experiences by establishing hope and resilience that strengthens one’s ontological security and sense of self.

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