Date of Submission

Spring 2020

Academic Program


Project Advisor 1

Justin Dainer-Best

Abstract/Artist's Statement

Studies have examined the reactions to music within human emotion, but there is a lack of research on the relationship between music and psychopathy. Generally, psychopathic individuals demonstrate emotional abnormalities that would be consistent with insensitivity, lack of empathy, incapacity for love, or emotional response deficiencies. Because of this limited emotional control, such individuals also rarely experience emotional contagion: the ability to determine an expressed emotion from a stimulus and then mirror that emotion empathically. Research has shown that psychopathic individuals lack the ability to determine an expressed emotion or feeling from music and be able to internalize that feeling. The present study will analyze how people with psychopathic traits may be able to benefit from a type of music therapy that specializes in inducing chills, goosebumps, and thrills or “frisson” in people through distinctive musical excerpts and training them to seek out rewards in said excerpts. Such therapy could open up emotional pathways, giving those who are less able to express said emotions the chance to access them. The present study will employ questionnaire measures of psychopathy using the Revised Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R) in a sample of incarcerated male individuals. This would allow a prescreen for psychopathy in the experimental sample. Participants will then be instructed to sit and listen to prepared musical excerpts that have been demonstrated to induce chills and goosebumps in a healthy sample, while having their GSR (galvanic skin response, a measure of electrodermal activity) monitored to detect the existence of frisson. After this part of the experiment, participants will be asked to fill out a self-report questionnaire, which will consist of questions like, “Did the auditory stimuli give you chills?”, “Did you feel moved by the auditory stimuli?”, “Do you feel happiness while listening to this stimulus?”. The study will then compare whether or not participants’ GSR matches the self-reported symptoms. The hypothesis is that those high on psychopathy on the PCL-R will have diverging results on their GSR and self-report. I hypothesize that those with more psychopathic traits will report not feeling as strongly about the stimuli on their self-report, but that the GSR results will nonetheless indicate frisson was present on the body. Essentially, what this result would imply is that psychopathic individuals are unaware, either purposefully or not, that music is causing emotions and bodily reactions that they may not know they had access to. This finding would suggest that music can be used to repeatedly allow those with psychopathic traits to access emotions through frisson. What this information would tell us about psychopathy and emotional processing is that psychopathic individuals do have the ability to experience emotions as neurotypicals, but the access of those emotions is harder, which is why through music those experiences can be unlocked.

Open Access Agreement

On-Campus only

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

This work is protected by a Creative Commons license. Any use not permitted under that license is prohibited.

Bard Off-campus Download

Bard College faculty, staff, and students can login from off-campus by clicking on the Off-campus Download button and entering their Bard username and password.