Happy playlists, sad playlists, party playlists – every music fan knows there’s no better way to set the mood than with a great soundtrack.
Now, a few researchers from Germany and Singapore are taking this principle to the next level with a brain-computer interface (BCI) that tailors music to a user’s mood in real time. Ultimately, their goal is to teach listeners with mental illness how to regulate and manage their own emotions, they described in a recent interview.
According to Dr. Stefan Ehrlich uses neurofeedback technology to set the music’s rhythm, tempo, harmonic structure and sonic “roughness” to adapt “seamlessly and continuously” to the listener’s emotional state. The tone of the music can then serve as feedback to the listener as they try to adjust their mood.
“I want to emphasize that the system has pushed people to deal with their memories and with their emotions to change the music feedback,” Ehrlich said.
Researcher Kat Agres further described music as a “Swiss army knife”, noting that its inherent properties lend themselves to healthcare applications such as mental health and wellness. “It’s social, it’s engaging, it often evokes personal memories and it often lends itself to rhythmic entertainment,” she summed up. “It is intended to influence their emotional state and help the listener learn how to mediate their emotional state as they interact with the music system.”
Ehrlich and Agres have now started work on a 2.0 version of the system, which they call a Brain-Computer-Brain Interface. Once it has undergone a battery of tests, they plan to apply the project to stroke patients who are depressed.
“The public currently sees music primarily as a medium for entertainment, but music has a much larger footprint in human history than this. Historically, it has played many important roles in society, from social cohesion to mother-child bonding to healing,” Ehrlich and Mee agree motivated. “We hope that music interventions and technologies such as our affective BCI system will contribute to this evolving landscape and be a useful tool to help people improve their mental health and well-being.”