To Max Planck and Back: My Invited Talk

I know, I’ve been silent for months, and now it is time to recover.

I always have so many things to write down and so little time to do it. This period has been so intense and full of travels and changes that, sometimes, when I wake up, I forget where I am and what I am expected to to during the incoming day.

I wish to share with you a special occasion I had for my research on music flow at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt am Main. I was invited to speak about our research on music flow on an exclusive Symposium at the the Max Planck Institute. 

BTW, what is flow?

ok, keep your eyes closed and keep breathing while you are imagining the last time you did something so involving to absorpt you totally, when time passed extremely quickly or slowly, you forgot everything else except the task you were doing, you felt so at ease, everything was under control and perfectly flew without interruptions. This is flow. An optimal psychological state you live while immersed in an activity you can perfectly manage, although it is still challenging, and all the rest is left apart.

This definition resonates so well with me if I think about my musical practice. When I sing, I am always in flow. Time stops, I am “in the moment“, “In the groove”, “was ‘tuned in’ to what I was doing”…(Martin, & Jackson, 2008)

Four years ago, in 2015 during my internship, I wrote my first article, which was also the first systematic review on this experience in musical contexts. I called it “When music Flows“. To be honest, a lot of things have flown since that article. First, I started and finished my doctorate. Then, I got a PhD position keeping on my favourite topics., and discover that Flow is a sort of potential transformative experience but at that time I was not aware of it. Crucially, I have been invited to talk about this work at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics by professor Winfried Menninghaus’ group.  When I received the email I was astonished and kept thinking about “Is it really true?”. Yes, it was true and it has been an amazing experience. Two full-time days dedicated to flow research across different fields, including music.

Flow is music is considered the key of success….want to know more? Go on reading!

Here’s the opening.






Why this Symposium on flow?



“Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person’s capacity […].” – this quote by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2001), one of the pioneers of Positive Psychology, illustrates how a person can find pleasure in an activity and become completely engaged with it. In artistic contexts – whether it is creating, performing, or receiving art – enjoyment of the activity in its own right plays a central role. By studying artists, who show a high degree of dedication to their craft regardless of external rewards, Csikszentmihalyi discovered a specific state of mind associated with such intrinsic enjoyment: Flow.

Nowadays Flow is not only a popular term people use in their everyday language to refer to the feeling of “being in the zone” while doing something. It is also the object of an ever-evolving research field, sparking scientific interest amongst scholars from a wide range of disciplines such as psychologists, neuroscientists, and health scientists. In this symposium we will bring together experts in Flow research, to present and discuss recent advances and future directions of the field. The symposium’s main focus is on Flow in the context of art, music, and creativity, but also on psychophysiological and neurophysiological indicators of Flow, as well as on motivational and interindividual factors contributing to this experience. We are looking forward to two interesting days of scientific presentations and debate!”


I was so happy to let other researchers know which progress is possible now in the field of music. I presented our perspective on group flow, a state of low enlarged to more than a single individual and involving an entire group of people, I showed our encouraging results and met wonderful people, such as my hero, professor Örjan de Manzano, the first who studied psychophysiology of flow in musicians, his colleague, professor László Harmat, who is doing great research on group flow and who we hope to collaborate with in the future, the sweet and brilliant Corinna Peifer, international expert in the psychophysiology of flow, professor Fredrik Ullén, who introduced a new genetic and dispositional big data perspective on flow, as well as René Weber, who presented the Synchronization Theory of Flow, and the promising researcher Kelsey Finnley, who developed the scale of Aesthetic experiences including flow (I hope to be in charge of its italian validation).

I have been so happy to be among these people and share our insights ideas and data. I wish to thank them all.

Below the full list of speakers:

Arnold Bakker (Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands)

Alice Chirico (Catholic University of the Sacred Heart Milan/Brescia, Italy)

Genevieve Cseh (Buckinghamshire New University, England)

Kelsey Finnley (Claremont Graduate University, USA)

László Harmat (Linnaeus University Växjö, Sweden)

David Harris (University of Exeter, England)

Johannes Keller (University of Ulm, Germany)

Örjan de Manzano (Karolinska Institute Stockholm, Sweden)

Corinna Peifer (Ruhr University Bochum, Germany)

Birte Thissen (Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics Frankfurt, Germany)

Fredrik Ullén (Karolinska Institute Stockholm, Sweden)

Martin Ulrich (University of Ulm, Germany)

Regina Vollmeyer (Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany)

Michael Wagner (University of Ulm, Germany)

René Weber (University of California Santa Barbara, USA)


P.S. A special thanks to professor Johannes Keller who assisted me and recover me when I got lost in the building looking for the cafeteria 🙂 🙂 . He is a man full of talent and passion, an open-minded person, and passionate beekeeper. I’ve loved sharing ideas with him.

And a “see you later” to Manuela M. Marin, expert in music and who will visit us in Milan in the final part of 2019: see you in Milan!

What next?

  1. New collaborations:
  2. New insight about how to enter flow while playing, performing or listening to music.
  3. Flow alone and in groups.


Hi All!!

Just a quick reminder for the big tomorrow event on Transformative experience design held in Università Cattolica of Milan, room G.127 Pio XI, scheduled 10.00-13.00.

We wait for you!

Un sogno che si avvera: domani per la prima volta in Italia presenteremo ad Aziende, colleghi ricercatori, studenti e professionisti, il nostro modello sul Transformative Design.

Quando? ore 10.00-13.00 domani 20 maggio!

Dove? Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano Aula Aula G.127 Pio XI.

Per chi? Tutti coloro che vogliono capire cosa si nasconda dietro questa parola così usata oggi “Transformation” e come sia possibile sfruttarla al meglio in tutti i settori.

Vi aspettiamo!


Transformative media

When Transformation happens for metaphor

Change is the main aim of all scientists. We study a phenomenon to understand why it happens, which its consequences are, how to improve it…how to change it.

With people, this aim is far more salient. As psychologists, we all wish people to change. I have tried to capture a peculiar change: the transformative one. We posed it has awe and wonder as its sparkles, and we have wrote many things on it. The main difficulty is to report this complex process into words. Luckily, we have a flexible tool, that is, language, which can help us making sense out the chaos of transformation. Specifically, we have a figure of speech that is frequently used within therapeutic settings to talk about change, that is, metaphors.

Metaphors occurs when a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.

I did the same about me. My story, my text…

The story is entitled..


I believe we all need stories. Parents told us stories to try to get us to sleep when we were children. We seek stories in books, when we attend the church, when we go to the gym, or we select the song we wish to listen. Stories make sense of life, donate explanations, and reassure us. Each story starts with a main character acting to solve a problem. At the beginning, the protagonist is not aware of the workable solution but keeps trying several paths and suddenly, what was obscure before, slowly starts becoming clearer and acquires a new meaning, a new sense. This is the end of the narrative arch.

I love open-ended stories, those without a clear and definitive conclusion. I use stories to tidy up my world, the world I have always seen but that looks invisible to most people. I see colors of emotions. I have always seen them everywhere. Art, landscapes, close spaces, smiles, memories, all exhibit colors of emotions. And, these colors have always shaken me since I don’t understand their nature and the reason of their existence. Sometimes a “kind” color springed up but it became too intense for me and, suddenly, I felt distressed. I just wish to make it less intense but, often, I failed and the “kind” color turned into its opposite. This brought forth sadness, need for loneliness and cold. It happened because my life has so many colors, and there is one particular color that has always given meaning to everything: it is like a mix of purple, violet, red and blue and it reminds me to awe & wonder. I know it is funny but I have always looked for wonder & awe in my life, I have always looked for a wonder tinged with mystery as the most profound essence of everything. I have built my young career on it. I call it “awe” and I define it as a complex emotion stemming from vast stimuli forcing us to change deeply and durably. It is the “baffing wonder”. I’ve fed on it since I was a child. It might look gorgeous but this path is full of loneliness and lack of comprehension from others and myself. I am the first who struggles to understand what is going on. However, I know that to seek for awe, you should adopt a different perspective, thus staying outside from the perceptual, accustomed, accepted world, indicated as the “right world”, the “real” one, ruled by a set of established norms. It means drifting aways from pretend comfortable daily certainties, from shared norms linking us to others, to family and relatives.

Today, I see how far I have drifted away. I delved into a wood but I believed that I was closer to home than I really was. I stumbled, It started raining, and I built a shelter and I took refuge in it. I felt cold, hungry, pain and grief but I always listened to a comfortable voice behind me that tries to reassure me. I came up in a beautiful clearing and I thought it was the finish line but the voice told me that was just the beginning. The behind voice pushed me always. It was enough to move on. The green clearing left room for a mix of blu, yellow and violet, which made me hope for the best. Suddenly, a storm blew up. I was small and unarmed. I stopped hearing the behind voice and I started hearing a new voice ahead. The new voice told me incompresible stories but I felt reassured by it. The voice behind was soft and almost dumb. While I was walking to drive awe out, I had to choose whether to cross a river or to come back. I closed my eyes and I chose to jump and risk my life to cross the river, from one side to the other side. I touched the other side. I stopped hearing the behind voice forever.

I was on the slopes of a high mountain and there was a hand helping me climb it. It was not the ned but a new beginning. I climbed while I was trying to remember the old voice that I left behind. That was my first awe-driving force. It looked as if it was still there. Another voice told me to keep on climbing because that was the right way.

Now, I lost the ability to hear the behind voice, which has been progressively replaced by faded memories. I am no more alone, despite I have lost my behind voice. I still don’t know if I should stay, climb or come back to tell anyone that a new world beyond the wood and beyond the valley exists. A new world showing a new sky full of new colors of life. The world proceeds even beyond what the voice ahed is telling me.

Now, it’s just me and awe. I haven’t found it yet, probably and luckily I will never do, but I can see its aura. It is enough. It is always made of a mix of purple, violet and red and it is brighter. I am alone, but I cannot feel like this. I just wish to bring the first voice with me, open its eyes, make it stretching its arms to the wonder, to awe, so that also the first behind voice could tell a new story. I just wish to save it and all people who remained behind.

I have now a new story that helps me keep climbing the mountain. I have my metaphor.

And, now, the soundtrack of this story is this..

Music and emotions across the world

What if all humans in the world need to feel the same emotions at the same time during the day?

Check this wonderful article, which has been suggested by professor Andrea Gaggioli, about musical preferences across the globe:

Global music streaming data reveal diurnal and seasonal patterns of affective preference

People manage emotions to cope with life’s demands. Previous research has identified affective patterns using self-reports and text analysis, but these measures track the expression of affect, not affective preference for external stimuli such as music, which affects mood states and levels of emotional arousal. We analysed a dataset of 765 million online music plays streamed by 1 million individuals in 51 countries to measure diurnal and seasonal patterns of affective preference. Findings reveal similar diurnal patterns across cultures and demographic groups. Individuals listen to more relaxing music late at night and more energetic music during
normal business hours, including mid-afternoon when affective expression is lowest. However, there were differences in baselines: younger people listen to more intense music; compared with other regions, music played in Latin America
is more arousing, while music in Asia is more relaxing; and compared with other chronotypes, ‘night owls’ (people who are habitually active or wakeful at night) listen to less-intense music. Seasonal patterns vary with distance from the equator and between Northern and Southern hemispheres and are more strongly correlated with absolute day length than with changes in day length. Taken together with previous findings on affective expression in text, these results suggest that musical choice both shapes and reflects mood.

No matters if you are Indian, English, African, Italian or from Argentina….you would be inclined to choose to listen to energetic music during the morning and to more calm music while the night is approaching. However, there are differences between cultures, thus…

Music played in Latin America (M = 1.053) is relatively more intense, and music in Asia is more relaxed (M = 0.698) compared with Oceania (M = 0.807), Europe (M = 0.804) and North America (M = 0.830; P <0.001 for eight pairwise comparisons of Latin America with the four other regions and Asia with the four other regions“. (p.231)

More, it matters if you are a woman or man and if you are young…

As people get older, they listen to less-intense music (M = 1.162, 0.970, 0.841, 0.769 and 0.484, respectively, for the five age groups from 10–19 to over 50; P < 0.001 for all pairwise comparisons; see Supplementary Table 1 for additional statistical details)“. (p.231).

To sum up, it looks like that people have seasonal musical preferences, as depicted by the image below on weekly and monthly changes of music preferences. 



How do we know that? Thanks to Internet!!!!

This study has been conducted in 51 countries on streamed music, thus, Internet has been the main source for data collection across the world.

Two elements strike me most: (i) These innovative methodology that allow research carrying out analyses on such a large amount of data (actually, data are becoming bigger and bigger 🙂 ); (ii) The other side of Internet: we have spent years and years wondering whether this could be considered as a bad or good technology and less time to understand what Internet could tell about us as humans, since We’ve created it.

Now, we are transferring our moods, our emotions on the Internet. Thus, the “www” could be cosidered as an “advanced mirror“of our emotional spectrum.

We have achieved this knowledge partially by social networks (give a look at emotional contagion studies on Facebokook), now we can “detect” people’ moods on a larger scale and with a more “direct” source, that is, self-selected music. Self selected music tells something about or inner preferences and it is very personal but it is also a socially acceptable way (we cannot damage anyone) to express even dramatic feelings or to help us regulate them in different moment oof our life.

Therefore, streamed music mirrors our feelings and our desired feelings.

I believe that we are connected more today than ever, and this should be studied also at a higher level than the emotional-mood one….what about discrete emotions?

Emotion and language: Get inspired by Phoebe Ellsworth’ reflections on appraisal theories

Hello world!

I am attending a mentoring program under the supervision of Professor Ellsworth, one of the pioneers and lighthouses in the study of emotions and appraisal.

It is redundant to say how much I feel honored to have her supervision. I am so glad that I wish to share this opportunity with the world, so that many others could benefit from her expertise and wisdom.

This is why I wish to report a synthesis of her answers to my questions on this breakthrough article in the field of emotions and language:

Self-report captures 27 distinct categories of emotion bridged by continuous gradients

First of all the main question was: “how could we read this article with the lenses of appraisal theories“?

And, it follows: “what are appraisal theories?”

We should go back to the 1960s, when Arnold (1960) and Lazarus (1966) introduced the concept of appraisal, reintroducing ancient ideas about emotion such as that of Aristotle (1954). After, Ellsworth (1985), Ellsworth (1991, 2013), Klaus Scherer (1984) Frijda (1986, 2007), Roseman (1984, 2013), Oatley and Johnson-Laird (1987), and Clore and Ortony (2000) emerged as leading figures in this field.

The basic premise of appraisal theories is that emotions are adaptive responses which reflect appraisals of features of the environment that are significant for the organism’s well-being.” (Moors, Ellsworth, Scherer, Frijda, 2013; p. 119).

Finally: “how this approach differs from other theories?

What distinguishes appraisal theories from other theories may be summed up using the following criteria (Moors, Ellsworth, Scherer, Frijda, 2013):

  1. Emotions = emotional episodes (processes);
  2. Emotions = continuous and recursive process;
  3. Emotions = componential processes;
  4. Appraisal = one of the key components of this processes.
  5. Appraisal = “a process that detects and assesses the significance of the environment for well-being“. (Moors, Ellsworth, Scherer, Frijda, 2013; p. 120);
  6. Appraisal = (most appraisal theorists think that) there are many mechanisms underlying appraisal which can work at several levels of representations:  conceptual and/or propositional vs. perceptual and/or embodied; symbolic versus subsymbolic; locationist versus distributed.
  7. Appraisal = is a the base of of differences among emotional episodes since it engenders synchronic changes in other components of the emotional process.

Using these lenses, we read the article by Cowen and Keltner (2017) and we tried to highligh strenghts and weaknesses:

  1. Summing up…. it is possible that Cowen & Keltner were not able to differentiate some emotional states due to their choice to rely on specific appraisal themes instead of others, which were more related to the agency components (such as agency of ourselves vs. agency of others).
  2. …and summing up: the role of the social context has been often overlooked by appraisal theories as in the case of this work. However, some researchers relying on appraisal theories, such as  Kitayama and Masuda (1995) have started including the role of culture since ’90….this has contributed to give rise to the functionalist view of emotions (read this to deepen this aspect and to find more references).
  3. And cognition… usually, appraisal do not necessarily imply high order cognition, instead, it depends on the kind of appraisal that we consider.  For instance, “novelty” and “valence”, do not require high order cognitive processes.
  4. Appraisal does not entirely correspond to “Emotions”, conversely, it is just one of the components.
  5. Finally, what about emotions and language associated to emotions? Professor Ellsworth said that words are like “magnets” attracting our emotions  to a specific emotional space. Language defines our way to live and categorize  emotions….

Starting from this last reflection…I wish to deepen how much our Italian language shapes our experience of emotions in Italy….

Particularly, I am interested in how Italians use the term “sublime” to characterize their emotional life. Since this is an unusual emotion, and not all agree upon the fact that it can be considered as an emotion, I am interested in understanding what Italian people think about this aspect…

ITALIANS! Does the Sublime exist in Italy?


Dear All,

I hav been superpresent during holidays, but I was working on my thesis…As you may imagine. Everything, now, is settled. I have to submit the very final version and les jeux sont faits.

Do you believe me?

I don’t 🙂

My life has changed a lot since the beginning of this path. At the beginning, I spent hours reading articles, now, few minutes, I spent weeks writing articles, now days, I was unsure about what to do and how to direct other people…now..more or less the same but less anxious 🙂 What has changed more? Time available. I have less time to think, to enjoy life, to waste, to ponder on something, to feel anxious about anything. It is time to reduce the speed of living. At the end of PhD people are literally submerged by businesses (you could swim in), and it is only our fault. Our supervisors, our junior, our parents, friends, bosses, relatives ask for time, for attention. I think the solution is just one. “Say no”. We get used to say “yes” during the PhD, and after to cry at our homes being consumed with grief about how to manage all things.

You know what? Now, you can chose what to manage, when and how. As a researcher we should be able to say no. I am the worst one at doing that. I feel the frustration of people so intensively when I say no, that, egoistically, I prefer saying yes always, and then to complain.

The New Years’ resolution is to say “NO or Yes, but later”

These are things that I have learnt from my research group, not only on my own.

Another thing is being comfortable at being alone. When you grow, you become alone and alone. It is normal. This has been the first year in which I’ve experience what “managing people” means. It means being feared, often misinterpreted, but often also listened as a guide. Finally, you feel the heavy of responsibility, and it is fine.

World starts turning so fast that you cannot think in a step-wise manner any should start becoming a manager, take decisions, select things, people, activities and learn the most important thing of all: loosing control. And, loosing control means gaining control. I believe it is like a paradox: doing less to achieve more, controlling over less to manage better…I’ll keep you posted on how to pursue these goals pragmatically (actually, I am still working on it :-)).

I have never gone to slip up so often as in these days, so many mistakes followed by so many laughs. Things have different weights now. I have started seeing life from a different perspective and making different plans for my future.

Is PhD a transformative experience?

Yes, it is, and it looks like more as a mix of posttraumatic and postestatic moments, as Mangelsdorf & Eid (2015) labelled traumatic and positive occasions of transformation in life…


Phd…is like being on a rollercoaster…




Who wanna try?