Music Matters

Exploring music and the mind.

Are Emotions in Music Universal?

Report on an exiting study on the induction of emotions by music.

While there are plenty of theories on how music and emotion might be related, there is still little empirical evidence to decide on how far music and specific associated emotions - such as happiness, fear, sadness or anger - are merely a result of association and/or culturally determined, or in fact shared and a result of brain mechanisms that we all share.

In 2009 Current Biology published an interesting study on the recognition of three basic emotions using Western music and that of the Mafa (an ethnic group living in the mountains of Cameroon that are claimed never to have been exposed to Western music). Both Mafa and Western listeners listened to short Western piano pieces and Mafa flute music and had to decide which of the three faces (from the often used Ekman archive) fitted best with the perceived music.

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The study could show that the basic emotions happiness, sadness and fear could be picked up (above chance level) by both listener groups from each others music. Below a video fragment reporting on the study from the German tv-station Deutsche Welle:

 

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Henkjan Honing, Ph.D., is Professor in Music Cognition at the University of Amsterdam.

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