Elevator music as a tool for the quantitative characterization of reward

Ellie Bean Abrams, Richa Namballa, Richard He, David Poeppel, Pablo Ripollés

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While certain musical genres and songs are widely popular, there is still large variability in the music that individuals find rewarding or emotional, even among those with a similar musical enculturation. Interestingly, there is one Western genre that is intended to attract minimal attention and evoke a mild emotional response: elevator music. In a series of behavioral experiments, we show that elevator music consistently elicits low pleasure and surprise. Participants reported elevator music as being less pleasurable than music from popular genres, even when participants did not regularly listen to the comparison genre. Participants reported elevator music to be familiar even when they had not explicitly heard the presented song before. Computational and behavioral measures of surprisal showed that elevator music was less surprising, and thus more predictable, than other well-known genres. Elevator music covers of popular songs were rated as less pleasurable, surprising, and arousing than their original counterparts. Finally, we used elevator music as a control for self-selected rewarding songs in a proof-of-concept physiological (electrodermal activity and piloerection) experiment. Our results suggest that elevator music elicits low emotional responses consistently across Western music listeners, making it a unique control stimulus for studying musical novelty, pleasure, and surprise.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-136
Number of pages16
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2024


  • D-REX
  • electrodermal activity
  • music
  • novelty
  • reward
  • surprise

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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