Music Listening as Exploratory Behavior

A special issue of Behavioral Sciences (ISSN 2076-328X). This special issue belongs to the section "Experimental and Clinical Neurosciences".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 October 2024 | Viewed by 335

Special Issue Editors

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Guest Editor
1. Musicology Research Group, Faculty of Arts, KU Leuven-University of Leuven, 3000 Leuven, Belgium
2. Department of Art History, Musicology and Theatre Studies, IPEM, Ghent University, 9000 Ghent, Belgium
Interests: music psychology; musical sense-making; musical epistemology; neurobiological grounding of music listening; music and brain studies
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Guest Editor
Department of Musicology, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, 61-712 Poznan, Poland
Interests: evolution of musicality; psychology of music; biomusiclogy; meaning in music; coevolution of speech and music; pitch perception
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Guest Editor
Audiology Section, School of Population Health, University of Auckland, Auckland 2011, New Zealand
Interests: noise; hearing; hearing loss; noise-induced hearing loss; auditory neurophysiology; psychoacoustics; soundscape; health promotion
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Music listening is an exploratory activity that involves perception, affect and cognition. As a time-oriented process, it relies on attention, memory, and expectation. It can be seen as an affordance-laden structure that invites listeners to create meaning for themselves by “coping” with the sounds. Coping, as a survival mechanism, entails cognitive and behavioral efforts to manage specific internal and/or external demands on the resources of an individual. Applied to music, this means that listeners may search for stimuli that possess benefits, resulting in the management and regulation of attention and arousal, as well as optimal homeostatic regulation.

The aim of this Special Issue is to broaden the scope of music listening to embrace the larger sonic world. Music, from this perspective, is considered as a sound environment, and listening as a process of exploration of this environment. It is an approach that conceives of music as both structured by the composer and musicians, and taking on an idiosyncratic structure imposed by the exploratory behavior of each individual listener. This exploratory behavior proceeds in real-time and can be seen as an epistemic tool for the understanding of music, with a major emphasis on active search rather than passive listening. Several mechanisms are involved in this process, such as the dynamics of attention and knowledge construction, both at the level of sensory information processing, emotional bodily resonance, and higher-level cognitive elaboration.

Prof. Dr. Mark Reybrouck
Prof. Dr. Piotr Podlipniak
Dr. David Welch
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Behavioral Sciences is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2200 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • music as a sound environment
  • music as soundscape
  • exploratory behavior as a cognitive category
  • broad-and-build theory: broadening the behavioral and cognitive repertoire
  • music perception and attentional dynamics
  • skillful coping with sounds
  • musical affordances
  • exploratory listening and homeostatic regulation
  • music knowledge acquisition
  • musical improvisation as exploratory behavior
  • musicality as an evolutionary achievement
  • discovery learning

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission, see below for planned papers.

Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: Geometries in sound: the listening experience of sound-based music
Authors: Riccardo D. Wanke
Affiliation: CEIS20 Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Coimbra, PORTUGAL
Abstract: This paper draws on the notion of image schemata (Johnson, 1987) to clarify the perceptual experience of certain pieces within of “sound-based music” (Landy, 2007) of composers and performers such as Gyorgy Ligeti, Giacinto Scelsi, Annea Lookwood, Georg Friedrich Haas, Eliane Radigue, and Mika Vainio (Wanke, 2021). By drawing upon the interdisciplinary bridge which connects image schemata, Gestalt psychology and auditory perception (Bregman, 1990), the paper discusses how the listening to this music has the potential of eliciting a particular engagement which passes through the creation of mental images as geometries in motion, and can lead to cross-modal associations. In applying morphodynamic theory (Petitot, 2011), this paper shows the connections among sound patterns, evoked mental images and cognitive responses. The paper shows how listening to this music can trigger a profound engagement with our bodily experience of the world and it let emerge the potential of a particular music engagement which can be leveraged as cognitive resources for creative and educational purposes.

Title: Exploring Ambient Music Listening as Adaptation Mechanism: An Epistemic Approach to Sonic Environment Exploration
Authors: Piotr Kędziora
Affiliation: Institute of Cultural Studies, Faculty of Anthropology and Cultural Studies, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland
Abstract: This article proposes an exploration of ambient music listening within the framework of adaptation mechanisms, emphasizing its role as a stimulus for managing specific internal and external demands on individual resources. Drawing from historical and theoretical studies, ambient music is conceptualized as an artificial soundscape with artistic and commercial dimensions, serving as a crucial format for mood regulation, sound pollution mitigation, and immersive sonic experiences. By considering listening as a fundamental mode of participation in the dynamic sonic sphere, we argue that ambient music acts as an affordance-laden structure, inviting listeners to engage in adaptive behaviors to navigate the sonic environment. This exploration underscores the dual nature of ambient music, shaped by both musical composition and individual listening attitudes, which facilitate active engagement and knowledge construction. Through an epistemic lens, we examine ambient listening as a cognitive activity oriented towards homeostasis, reflecting cultural transformations in musical listening facilitated by contemporary extensions of auditory perception. Ultimately, this article seeks to broaden the understanding of music listening by framing ambient music as a specific catalyst for exploration and adaptation within the larger sonic world.

Title: Music-evoked imagination in the predictive brain
Authors: Sarah Hashim; Diana Omigie
Affiliation: Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths University of London
Abstract: There is increasingly robust evidence of music listening’s ability to shape imagination. In turn, discussions of potential underlying mechanisms have tended to revolve around the role of memory systems. However, such accounts fail to acknowledge the prevailing view of music listening as a predictive process, and specifically one that is characterised by waxing and waning active engagement, due to the listeners’ waxing and waning exploratory behaviour toward the music. To address this, and based on a rich body of literature, we propose that music-evoked visual and narrative imagination reflect the brain's predictions extending to visual and semantic representations, and that such imaginative processes are intrinsic to listeners’ active exploration of music being heard. Critically, invoking the notion of joint probabilistic inference, we outline the possibility of strong bidirectional processes whereby auditory-based predictions not only drive imagined content, but also imagined content influences auditory processing. Situating these processes firmly in contemporary accounts of the predictive brain, we explain how they lead to the rich but coherent multimodal experiences, that listeners very often report during music listening.

Title: Signal processing demands for soundscape analysis underlie musical and esthetic listening
Authors: Tjeerd Andringa
Affiliation: ALICE Institute, Artificial Intelligence, University of Groningen, Groningen 9747 AG, The Netherlands
Abstract: We investigate and model the signal processing demands of soundscape analysis. This analysis results in behaviorally relevant evaluations associated with approach and avoidance via the concept of audible safety. We show that neuromorphic signal processing with a number of time constants (four) and subsequent pattern analysis allows the assignment of each moment to the standard four soundscape quadrants (calm, vibrant, chaotic, monotonous). The signal processing demands form the root of musical and esthetic listening, which we likely share with other animals. Individual differences between listeners can help us understand why some are, and others are not sound annoyed.

Title: Let’s not get too emotional: Musical pleasure in time and (mental) space
Authors: Emery Schubert
Affiliation: School of Music and Music Education, University of New South Wales, Sydney NSW 2052, Australia
Abstract: This paper proposes that pleasure and emotion generated in the listener by music are overlapping but qualitatively different experiences that guide the way we listen to and explore music. We achieve this proposal by drawing on evidence that the timing of a heard piece impacts on the pleasure it generates, such as the well-known ‘inverted-U’ (optimal preference) principle, whereas emotional response to music is generally more stable from this temporal perspective (e.g. a piece associated with happiness). Furthermore, we show the brain regions involved in generating the emotion associated with the music do not necessarily explain the entirety of the pleasure generated. Instead, we argue for a distinction between the concept of pleasure and emotion in both time and (mental) space to better understand affective responses to music.

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