Psychological and psychophysiological effects of music intensity and lyrics on simulated urban driving

Costas I. Karageorghis, Garry Kuan, William Payre, Elias Mouchlianitis, Luke W. Howard, Nick Reed, Andrew M. Parkes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
66 Downloads (Pure)


The main aim of this study was to investigate the effect of musical characteristics (i.e., presence of lyrics and loudness) in the context of simulated urban driving. Previous work has seldom isolated musical characteristics and examined these both singularly and interactively. We investigated the potentially distracting effects of processing lyrics through exposing young drivers to the same piece of music with/without lyrics and at different sound intensities (60 dBA [soft] and 75 dBA [loud]) using a counterbalanced, within-subjects design (N = 34; Mage = 22.2 years, SD = 2.0 years). Six simulator conditions were included that comprised low-intensity music with/without lyrics, high-intensity music with/without lyrics, plus two controls – ambient in-car noise and spoken lyrics. Between-subjects variables of driving style (defensive vs. assertive) and sex (women vs. men) were explored. A key finding was that the no lyrics/soft condition yielded lower affective arousal scores when compared to the other music conditions. There was no main effect of condition for HRV data (SDNN and RMSSD). Exploratory analyses showed that, for assertive drivers, NASA-TLX Performance scores were lower in the no lyrics/soft condition compared to the lyrics/loud condition. Moreover, women exhibited higher mean heart rate than men in the presence of lyrics. Although some differences emerged in subjective outcomes, these were not replicated in HRV, which was used as an objective index of emotionality. Drivers should consider the use of soft, non-lyrical music to optimise their affective state during urban driving.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)329-341
Number of pages13
JournalTransportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour
Early online date4 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by a UKRI Economic and Social Research Council grant awarded to the first and last authors (ES/R005559/1). The study was also supported by a research grant from the Direct Line Group (UK).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors


  • Affect
  • Attention
  • Cluster analysis
  • Distraction
  • Safety
  • Sound intensity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Automotive Engineering
  • Transportation
  • Applied Psychology


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