Music has enormous power to affect our emotions—it can make you so happy you want to get up and dance, or it can make you so sad, you want to cry.
Why does music cause these emotional responses? And how? These are the kinds of questions that intrigue Molly Holder, who graduated in 2002 with a self-designed major in music cogition. She’s currently the senior Web developer and research consultant for Sourcetone, a music research and health company. One of their initiatives is an Internet radio site that plays emotion-based streams of music to listeners, based on extensive empirical psychological and technological research.
Holder says that by combining her interests in music and psychology at Mount Holyoke she was able to take advantage of “the great faculty in both the psychology and music departments.” She concentrated in composition and investigated the effects of music on cognition and emotion, especially as applied to advertising music. After graduating, she was a freelance composer, writing music for advertisements while also working full-time in the insurance business. (If you lived on the East Coast during the 2003 holiday season, you may have heard her music in a Whole Foods Market radio commercial.)
In 2005, Holder entered the music technology program at NYU’s Steinhardt School. For her master’s thesis, she investigated what types of audio content in music cause certain emotional, psychological, and physiological effects in the listener. She compared audio information (frequency and energy concentration, beat detection, etc.) extracted from the actual audio signal of music to autonomic nervous system data (heart rate, skin conductance) and user-reported emotional reactions.
In New York, Holder worked at a music house called Music for Picture. “This gave me the chance to work with their great and talented staff, as well as many various recording artists, including Martha Wainwright, the Brazilian Girls, Andrew Bird, and others,” she says. “I also researched how the proven emotional effects of music can enhance communication between advertising agencies and music houses.”
After completing her master’s degree, Holder was recruited by Sourcetone, where she remains today. “I feel especially lucky to be working in a position that allows me to fully utilize both of my degrees,” says Holder. “I owe a debt of gratitude to the wonderful faculty and staff at Mount Holyoke for helping me to build such a solid academic foundation for my professional future.”