Mood music – Inferring wellbeing from Spotify

Photo by Morning Brew on Unsplash

Does what you listen to reflect how you feel? And if it did, what would you think about using your music history to track your mood?  

Blog post by Nina Di Cara, PhD researcher, Population Health Sciences, University of Bristol

Our research group, the Dynamic Genetics Lab, previously looked at whether what we do and what we say on social media can be used to measure mood and wellbeing. This Seedcorn Grant, from the Jean Golding Institute, has given us the opportunity to look at the feasibility of a different medium – music streaming.  


  • Recruit a focus group of students to discuss the acceptability of tracking mood through music streaming behaviours 
  • Build an opensource software infrastructure to collect Spotify data from consenting participants, alongside tracking their mood through frequent mood questionnaires.  
  • Conduct a pilot study to understand whether music listening behaviours were predictive of mood.  

Establishing non-questionnaire measures of mood and wellbeing, especially those that allow us to track mood longitudinally, has many potential benefits. It means that understanding wellbeing does not need to rely on participants trying to remember how they have felt for the past several weeks or months. Continuous non-intrusive measurement of mood could also help identify patterns in response to external events at a personal or population level. These methods could also make it easier for people to track their own moods, and to share recent patterns with mental health professionals. Of course, with new technology like this it is always incredibly important to pair it with an in depth understanding of people’s views on the limitations and acceptability of its development and use. 

Bespoke software for novel application of mental health data science

When the project started in January 2020 we were really excited to get going – the study was a chance to integrate qualitative and quantitative research and build our own bespoke software for this novel application of mental health data science 

The software we are building is a platform that will allow participants to sign up, complete baseline questionnaires, connect their Spotify account and will collect the Spotify data they have agreed to. It will also send them a brief questionnaire several times a day for two weeks that will ask them to report how they are feeling. At the end we will have the two weeks of music listening data from Spotify alongside these mood reports to analyse. As the software will be open source it may even be of use to other researchers, as well as being used for future studies of our own. 

By February we had successfully navigated the first stage of ethical approval and recruited our participant focus group. A few weeks later we held the first of our five planned focus groups, where participants spoke about the acceptability of using music listening data in academic research and compared it to other types of data commonly collected for epidemiological research. The participants also shared their thoughts on how their music listening patterns may, or may not, be indicative of how they feel.  

An opportunity to refine plans

Sadly, just as we were getting started, COVID-19 arrived in the UK. Our focus groups were suspended, and we decided that it would not be ethical to conduct research which requires frequent introspection at a time that a lot of people were struggling to get to grips with lockdown.  

We are pleased to say that now life is starting to return to normal we are able to pick-up where we left off, with a few adjustments! We will be re-starting our focus groups online, and looking to run our pilot study in the Autumn when students return 

Having delays isn’t all bad though – it has meant we have more time to get feedback from other researchers, and more time to spend getting our software right. This should mean that when we do go ahead the study design and tools will have benefitted from those few extra months of refinement!  

How to get involved

If you are a student who is interested in taking part in a focus group, or taking part in the pilot study later this year, get in touch with Nina ( to receive updates when we start recruiting.  

Jean Golding Institute Seed Corn Funding Scheme

The Jean Golding Institute run an annual seed corn funding scheme and have supported many interdisciplinary projects. Our next round of funding will be in Autumn 2020. Find out more about our Funding opportunities