Music's emotional pitch revealed: research

May 21, 2004

Music's ability to make us feel chirpy, sad, excited or just plain bored can be accurately predicted by only a few of its basic elements, an Australian scientist has discovered.

"Among other things, loudness, tempo and pitch have a measurable impact on people's emotional response to music," says University of NSW music psychologist, Dr Emery Schubert.

His is the first study of its kind to mathematically quantify the emotional impact of music. Sixty-seven subjects listened to four classical musical compositions while they moved a mouse over a computer screen to indicate the emotion they felt was being expressed musically.

Their mouse movements indicated whether they found the music to be happy or sad and arousing or sleepy, on what Dr Schubert calls a "two-dimensional emotional space". These movements were automatically recorded by the computer once each second throughout the musical performance.

"The results tell us that arousal is associated with a composition's loudness and to a lesser extent its tempo," says Dr Schubert, whose paper is to be published in the forthcoming issue of the journal, Music Perception. This was evident in the four compositions examined -- Slavonic Dance Opus No. 46 (Anton Dvorak), Concerto de Arunquez (Joaquin Rodrigo), Pizzicato Polka (Johan Strauss Jr and Josef Strauss) and 'Morning' (Edvard Grieg).

"The happy-major, sad-minor relationship in music is already well known. My study suggests that the perception of happiness in music is associated with pitch and the number of instruments, although this was only evident in scores by Rodrigo and Grieg," says Dr Schubert. "Increasing happiness was associated with rising pitch in the Rodrigo, and more instruments in the Grieg composition."

Will the findings lead to a "compose-by-numbers" approach to music? "Not yet," says Schubert. "While we know that some musical parameters predict some emotions with a degree of certainty, musical features interact in complex ways, as do listener responses. Before we can compose musical emotions by numbers, we need to convert human experience and cultural knowledge variables into numbers, too. It will be some time before we can do this."

"Our emotional response to music is highly complex -- and has a lot to do with what we bring to the listening experience, such as memory, expectation and conditioning. Still, it's true that composers through the ages have exploited mathematical relationships among rhythms, melodies, harmonies and other aspects of music to create and change emotion. What we've shown is that it is already possible to locate and quantify some of these emotions with some precision."
-end-
News editors/directors: visit the website below to sample musical excerpts and vision (Quicktime software) that show animated faces depicting people's emotional response to the compositions. These multimedia a/v files can also be provided on CD on request.

Photo/filming opportunity: Dr. Schubert will be available for photos with the UNSW Orchestra. Time: 6pm, Thursday 20 May. Place: Clancy Auditorium, University of NSW. Enter campus at Gate 9 off High Street.

Website: http://music.arts.unsw.edu.au/aboutus/research/Schubert/EmotionInMusic.shtml#EmotionFace

Media Contacts (NFP) Dan Gaffney: UNSW science media contact: mobile 61-41-115-6015. Dr. Emery Schubert (BH) 61-29-385-6808.

University of New South Wales

Related Perception Articles from Brightsurf:

Intelligent cameras enhance human perception
A team of FAU researchers has developed an intelligent camera that achieves not only high spatial and temporal but also spectral resolution.

New perception metric balances reaction time, accuracy
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a new metric for evaluating how well self-driving cars respond to changing road conditions and traffic, making it possible for the first time to compare perception systems for both accuracy and reaction time.

Sweet-taste perception changes as children develop
While adults prefer levels of sweetness similar to typical soft drinks, children and adolescents are less sensitive to the taste and prefer concentrations that are 50% sweeter, according to research by professor of food science and human nutrition M.

Optogenetic odors reveal the logic of olfactory perception
Using optogenetic control, researchers have created an electrical signature that is perceived as an odor in the brain's smell-processing center, the olfactory bulb, even though the odor does not exist.

Vision loss influences perception of sound
People with severe vision loss can less accurately judge the distance of nearby sounds, potentially putting them more at risk of injury.

Why visual perception is a decision process
A popular theory in neuroscience called predictive coding proposes that the brain produces all the time expectations that are compared with incoming information.

How the heart affects our perception
When we encounter a dangerous situation, signals from the brain make sure that the heart beats faster.

Changing how we think about warm perception
Perceiving warmth requires input from a surprising source: cool receptors.

Rhythmic perception in humans has strong evolutionary roots
So suggests a study that compares the behaviour of rodents and humans with respect to the detection rhythm, published in Journal of Comparative Psychology by Alexandre Celma-Miralles and Juan Manuel Toro, researchers at the Center for Brain and Cognition.

Approaching the perception of touch in the brain
More than ten percent of the cerebral cortex are involved in processing information about our sense of touch -- a larger area than previously thought.

Read More: Perception News and Perception Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.