Posted on Jan 07, 2020, 3 p.m.
According to a study published in PNAS from the University of California, researchers have identified and mapped thirteen subjective experiences that different kinds of music can evoke in people.
For anyone that may be having trouble creating a playlist of music to put yourself into a certain mood, it may soon become easier to find the music to kickstart you into action to for example be more motivated to work or find some tunes to suit your current emotions.
"We have rigorously documented the largest array of emotions that are universally felt through the language of music," says the study's senior author Prof. Dacher Keltner.
2,168 music samples were used to gauge how different types of music might influence emotions in cohorts of people from two different countries and cultures: 1,591 participants were recruited from America and 1,258 from China who listened to samples of different types of music.
The first subgroup of participants listened to a selection of 1,841 music samples which they assessed on 11 scales for broad effective features; this primary investigation allowed the researchers to create a long list of possible emotional experiences that different types of music could evoke, and allowed the verification of how those from different cultures perceived the same subjective experiences that the samples elicited.
"People from different cultures can agree that a song is angry but can differ on whether that feeling is positive or negative," notes Alan Cowen a doctoral student who led the research.
Additional experiments led to the identification of a range of 13 emotions associated with music that participants from both countries recognized: annoying, beautiful, amusing, anxious/tense, calm/relaxing/serene, dreamy, erotic/desirous, energizing, joyful/cheerful, sad/depressing, scary/fearful, triumphant/heroic, and indignant/defiant.
Iconic songs such as Rock the Casbah by the Clash and Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons made people feel more energized across the spectrum; music such as Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together promoted erotic feelings; and songs such as Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow elicited feelings of joy.
When listening to heavy metal participants tended to feel defiance, and feelings of fear were experienced while listening to music such as Bernard Herrmann’s The Murder which was used in the shower scene in the Hitchcock classic film Psycho.
A confirmation experiment designed to eliminate cultural biases was also conducted to make sure participants from different cultures experienced that same emotions while listening to certain types of music; this involved asking participants to listen to more than 300 traditional instrumental tracks from both cultures, and responses confirmed that all participants had similar emotions evoked by the same tracks.
“Music is a universal language, but we don't always pay enough attention to what it's saying and how it's being understood," notes Cowen. "We wanted to take an important first step toward solving the mystery of how music can evoke so many nuanced emotions," he adds. "Imagine organizing a massively eclectic music library by emotion and capturing the combination of feelings associated with each track. That's essentially what our study has done."
The team believes their work may have practical applications such as helping psychologists and psychiatrists develop music therapy, as well as allow developers to better program music streaming services to identify playlists that will fit listener mood searches.
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