The science behind Soulight

When I wrote my last blog piece, the Soulight journey had barely begun. Since then it has taken many baby steps and is slowly but surely finding ground. The start to the Soulight project has been very exciting and we at Musemantik feel incredibly grateful to all who have supported us in our endeavour to do something that shall eventually help a lot of people.

When Maciej and I first discussed the Soulight project we had to endure several sceptics though we always believed it to be a good idea. But to be fair to the sceptics, alleviating mental distress through an app that delivers personalised music journeys to your smart device sounded a bit uncanny if not purely weird.

We firmly believed in the power of music to alleviate mental distress and augment well-being. Several path-breaking studies pointed to the efficacy of music therapy in treating depression but the one that reaffirmed our belief was the randomised controlled trial of around 79 participants conducted by researchers at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland who concluded that ‘individual music therapy combined with standard care is effective for depression among working-age people with depression’. The full paper is published by the British Journal of Psychiatry on April 7, 2011 and is available here. They further concluded that music has special qualities that could be useful as a complement to established treatment practices.

So what are those special qualities of music that can help emotional awareness and establish connect with one’s inner self or consciousness?

According to famous music psychologist Stefan Koelsch, music activates spinal motor neurons and vestibular, visceral systems in the brain that gives us the arousal and contributes to feet-tapping even among the most non-musical.

He goes on to establish that the core emotion network in the brain consisting of the amygdala, the nucleus accumbens and the hippocampus responds to music by stimulating the release of positive brain chemicals and reducing the release of stress hormones like cortisol. He identifies five qualities of music that triggers emotional responses - acoustic factors (e.g. consonance/dissonance, loudness), structural stability (e.g. moving to and from the tonal centre), structural musical content, structural breaches and contagion. Though acoustic factors are a direct response to sound itself, the other three are results of how a composer arranges the musical notes and the relationships of those various notes to each other.

This brings us to the notion that personalised music with relevant musical structure can evoke and convey the required emotions. Contagion is a rather interesting music feature that works on the physiological state once the emotions have been triggered, for example we may cry after hearing a sad piece of music and crying then reinforces our sad feeling.

Soulight does not use only music to make emotional awareness and connect.

The User Interface and emotion model is inspired by the Circumplex model by Russell (1980) that represents emotions in a two-dimensional circular space of arousal and valence. Soulight has been modelled to understand low level emotion states (angry, calm, depressed, excited) as ‘entry point to the app’ while also accommodating higher-order emotions, such as ”chaotic” and emotional nuances like peaceful and serene.

Russell's Circumplex Model

Image: Russell's Circumplex Model`

The ‘entry point to the app’ uses music, colour, word and emoticon as a unit of emotional expression to help user quickly quantify his or her emotional state or mood.

The second feature of this app gets its scientific vigour from the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy which is an empirical based psychological intervention that uses acceptance, mindfulness, commitment and behaviour change strategies to increase understanding and come to terms with one’s existing emotional state, mood, feelings, thoughts, memories and even physical sensations.

Soulight goes further by allowing users to explore their mood to realise and reflect thereby bringing one to awareness and eventual transcendence.

Last but not the least interesting feature of Soulight is its ability to perform ‘mood shifting’ or ‘neutralise an existing mood’ using the innovative dynamic music scores powered by the proprietary Musicflow technology. As in the case of meditation and mindfulness, Soulight allows users to move to a positive mood from a negative one through a musical journey that shifts their mood.

With Christmas and New Year round the corner many of you shall be listening to music, and unconsciously increasing your mental well-being and also making beneficial changes to your brain. In the first half of the New Year, we shall be bringing the amazing power of music and beyond to all the Android users to help increase their mental well-being.

This post was originally written for Nominet Trust

Do sign up and watch out for Soulight in 2015.