ICMPC Day One – Symposium on Emotion

After lunch on the first day there was the first ‘emotion in music’ session, which contained three talks. I was hoping to see evidence for a move past the old methods of simply measuring people’s moods as they listen to different music, and indeed I was not disappointed. This session contained four different studies looking at very different methods in this growing field of study.

1) The first talk was on musical induction and persistence of mood and was given by Marjolein van der Zwaag.  Marjolein works for Philips who are apparently looking to develop a music player that responds to the mood of the listener by measuring basic bio-physiological responses such as heart rate and skin conductance (SCR). A nice idea in principle, although I can see many downfalls! But for the meantime Marjolein had conducted a study to determine how powerful self selected music is for mood induction both off and on task.

She showed that high energy and low energy music could indeed reliably trigger moods, which were measurable by physiological response (i.e. increase in heart rate and SCR). Music in mid ranges however failed to show a consistent or measurable response across individuals. So the hope of such an automatic ‘sensor’ listening device is likely to lie only in making grand scale mood changes. Never the less, Marjolein was still hopeful for the future of the device – an “affective music player” – which she will continue to research.

2) The second talk was looking at the influence of mood and personality on the perception of musical sounds. This study seemed to me a bit more like the older type of emotion study, since it involved playing people with difference personality traits (as measured by the Big 5) the same music and also measuring their mood state. Then doing lots of correlations to see the role that mood and personality played in their perception of the emotion portrayed by the music, which in this case was music from film scores. The biggest findings seemed to be at the level of extraverts giving higher ratings for happiness for example, which is nicely consistent with previous literature but nothing new.  Overall mood seemed to have the largest effect on evaluations of emotion in music, though personality can moderate this effect.

3) Stephen McAdams PhD student David Sears gave the third talk on anticipatory bodily responses in music. He started by showing the awful ‘Maze’ video, which if you haven’t seen it scares the life out of you!! My friend Eun-Jeong, who was next to me, nearly jumped out of her skin! The point in showing the video was that sympathetic body responses to surprise are automatic and we can measure them during music in order to determine responses to things like changes in tempo and loudness, and see what features of music trigger orienting responses.

David measured the typical things like heart rate and skin conductance (SCR), but also really cool measures of corrugator (eyebrow) and zygomaticus (cheek near the lips) muscles, which give away micro frowns and smiles.  Most interestingly he found that SCR increased prior to the onset of the final movement in an ABA piece of music (so as the B approached the final A), suggesting that our bodily responses give away our anticipation of change in musical structure. But overall the data were very individual and I think he finds it too noisy at times to pick up large effects.  Good presentation though!

4) There was a final talk given by David Huron’s student Gary Yim. He presented the results of their clever experiment looking at how lowering the relative pitch in an artificial scale can lead to an impression of sadness. Their controls are really clever since all participant hear the same music overall, but some participants hear lower scales as their controls and some as their experimental conditions. Overall they are trying to make the argument that lowering of degrees within the minor scale leads to an impression of sadness, partly due to the fact that the lowering of degrees of a scale is ‘less common’ – apparently 65-70% of Western music is in the major scale. Definitely I can recommend David’s book ‘Sweet Anticipation’ for more theories in this area of study.

More soon…

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