The effects of expressions of fear induced by background music on reading comprehension

Agnes S.K. Wong

Matthew Moreno

Samantha Burns

Earl Woodruff

Research has suggested that background music can have a positive or negative effect that can influence the affective state of individuals. Although research has demonstrated that fear negatively influences our cognitive performance, there is a research gap in understanding the combined effects of different background music tempo and fear in influencing reading comprehension performance.

Data were collected from 70 participants enrolled at a public university in Canada. Participants were required to listen to background music of varying speeds with three conditions (no music, slow music and fast music). We adopted a cross-sectional multi-level modelling approach for the main analyses, and further analyses using t-test and ANOVA.

Results indicated that expression of fear was not a significant predictor of participants’ reading comprehension performance (Model 1). However, when music condition was added (Model 2) in addition to expression of fear, a significant relationship between reading comprehension performance and music condition was found, showing better reading comprehension performance in the slow music condition than in the no music condition. Furthermore, there was a significant interaction effect between music condition and expression of fear on reading comprehension performance (Model 3). Importantly, not all individuals were affected by the music to the same extent, with the possibility that baseline level of fear being the key issue in influencing comprehension performance.

Considering both expressions of fear and music condition is required to understand the combined effects on cognitive performance. Expression of fear during cognitive tasks such as reading could be an essential signal that interventions should be applied. Such strategies may be especially beneficial for task performers with higher baseline levels of fear and possibly provide us with insights for best practice and research implications in the field of reading comprehension among individuals with special needs.

This publication uses Facial Expression Analysis which is fully integrated into iMotions Lab

Learn more