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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 16-Jul-10

 


Friday 16-July-10

Emotion and music

What is music for? My theory is that it stimulates our need for a sense of control by repeating patterns whilst varying these to stimulate our need for novelty. In doing so music makes us feel good, evoking strong emotions (at least for music we like!).

An interesting further question is around the extent to which music has universal elements that cross cultural boundaries, touching deep human chords.

Researcher Thomas Fritz and his colleagues played samples of computer-generated piano music to members of the culturally isolated Mafa tribe of Cameroon, as well as to Western participants. The music was specifically designed to convey happiness, sadness or fear through careful shaping of mode, tempo, pitch range, tone density and rhythmic regularity, according to Western conventions.

Analysis of facial expressions showed that both the tribes-people and Western participants used the same cues to evaluate and so respond to the music, showing the universality of musical appreciation and confirming how our brains are 'wired' for this. Interestingly, high tempo music was seen as happy whilst slower music was seen as sad or even fearful. A further experiment using non-harmonious 'music' confirmed this with much less appreciation shown.

It would have been interesting in these tests to find the 'edge' where appreciated harmony decays into disliked disharmony. There is certainly a spectrum even in what we call music where the likes of Stockhausen, heavy metal and avant garde jazz are liked only by a smaller audience. I remember my parents' comments about Hawkwind and Pink Floyd and I have wondered myself about my own children's choices.

Reference:
Fritz, T., Jentschke, S., Gosselin, N., Sammler, D., Peretz, I., Turner, R., Friederici, A., & Koelsch, S. (2009). Universal Recognition of Three Basic Emotions in Music. Current Biology, 19 (7), 573-576


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