A young woman smiles while listening to music on her mobile phoneShare on Pinterest
Experts say music can reduce stress and elevate mood. Jordi Mora igual/Getty Images
  • Researchers say they have developed an app that creates music playlists to enhance a person’s mood.
  • The app works by asking the user a series of questions to determine their emotional state.
  • Experts say music can improve mood as well as lower stress.
  • However, they caution that it should be used in conjunction with counseling for those facing mental health issues.

Researchers say they have created a new app based on artificial intelligence (AI) that can develop a musical playlist to help boost your emotional well-being.

At the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Nashville this week, Man Hei Law of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology is debuting the app that creates custom playlists for listeners to help manage their emotions through music.

The findings haven’t been published yet in a peer-reviewed journal.

“As humanity’s universal language, music can significantly impact a person’s physical and emotional state,” Law said in a statement. “For example, music can help people to manage pain. We developed this app as an accessible first aid strategy for balancing emotions.”

Developers say the app could be used by people who don’t want counseling or other treatment. They add that the emotional journey one can take via music can put them in a more positive and focused state.

“We found out that relaxing and uplifting methods can significantly move listeners from negative to more positive emotional states. Especially, when listeners are at a neutral mood, all three proposed methods can change listeners’ emotions to more positive,” said Law.

The app asks users three self-led questionnaires to gauge their emotional state and provide the information needed to create a playlist.

Current and long-term emotional status is gauged with a pictorial assessment tool, helping identify emotions by mood and energy level.

Energy levels range from high to medium to low. Mood registers as positive, neutral, or negative. A patient health questionnaire and anxiety screening are included to help select personalized music therapy treatments.

The app then creates a customized and specifically sequenced playlist of songs using one of three strategies: consoling, relaxing, or uplifting.

Consoling music reflects the mood and energy of the user while relaxing music provides positive, low energy. Uplifting music is also positive but infused with higher energy.

Candace Kotkin-De Carvalho, the clinical director of the Absolute Awakenings treatment center in New Jersey, told Healthline that music has a powerful ability to impact mood and behavior.

She said it can also be effective in helping people recover from illness.

“One of the main ways music helps is by providing an outlet for feelings that we might otherwise struggle to express on our own – whether these are feelings of joy, sadness, or anger,” Kotkin-De Carvalho said.

She said listening to, or creating, music can be a great way to help people regulate emotions and calm themselves when feeling overwhelmed or distressed.

“This is because music can have a soothing effect on our brains and bodies, helping to reduce our stress levels,” Kotkin-De Carvalho said. “It does this by stimulating the release of endorphins, the ‘feel good’ chemicals in our brains.”

Elisa Peimer is a licensed social worker and psychotherapist for Resilience Lab in New York City. She’s also a musician and a former marketer for Sony Music.

Peimer told Healthline music is an inherently human trait among every culture on the planet and that music is deeply linked to our physiological processes.

“Listening to relaxing music at bedtime has been shown to improve sleep quality, which in turn can improve mental health,” Peimer said. “Music at around 60 beats per minute has been indicated to relax and focus the mind. Listening to lyrics can also have an effect on mood.”

Peimer told Healthline it’s the connection to the feelings of others through music that lets people know they’re not alone. And that affects a listener physically.

“Studies have shown that music can modify the rate of respiration, heart rate, perspiration, and other bodily functions, which can result in psychological balance,” Peimer told Healthline.

Jeanette Lorandini, a licensed social worker and director of Suffolk DBT (Dialectal Behavioral Therapy), told Healthline that music therapy is proven to reduce stress levels and provide relief from difficult situations or memories.

Music connects people to positive memories or feelings she said. That can promote optimism and self-confidence.

“Music can also help people suffering from depression or anxiety by reducing their symptoms and helping them cope with difficult emotions,” Lorandini said. “Music therapy has been found to be beneficial for those with PTSD and other mental health issues. Studies have shown that music can help to improve cognitive functioning, reduce symptoms of distress, and increase positive emotions.”

Lorandini said exercising, hobbies, activities, meditation, connecting with family and friends, and expressing gratitude are also great ways to lessen stress and improve mood.

Peimer said music should be used as a complimentary outlet for most people.

“Using music for mental health is a wonderful way to improve outcomes, but it’s not a substitute for counseling,” Peimer said. “Talking to a therapist allows you to really focus on the specific issues that are causing you problems, and how to take steps to make changes to improve your life. Rather, music can be a way to enhance the effects of talk therapy in that it can be a daily way to relax, stay mindful, and increase joy.”

Rob Barrett is a musician and AI expert, most recently as the chief executive officer for AI in the education company Riiid Labs.

He told Healthline that AI-generated music can greatly affect people, as long as they’re willing to engage with it.

“All this makes sense and is wonderful, but what I see in my studies and our company’s research is this type of behavioral modification with music only works for the participants that are willing and looking to improve their mood,” Barrett said. “If you’re not engaged with the music because you are depressed, then its effects are minimal at best.”

Barrett told Healthline most people don’t necessarily need AI’s help when it comes to the healing power of music.

“If you’re OK enough to get pumped listing to Metallica, you likely don’t need the AI guessing for you,” Barrett said.

“While I understand that they want to use AI to really evaluate your mood, you are counting on the way someone asks the questions, which drastically affects the way someone answers the questions, hence the music played,” he added. “We don’t all read the questions the same.”