Additional Acting, Music, and Empathy Research

Here are the links to the papers I talked about in class today!

1) Keefe, B. D., Villing, M., Racey, C., Strong, S. L., Wincenciak, J., & Barraclough, N.E. (2014). A database of whole-body action videos for the study of action, emotion, and untrustworthines. Behavioral Research Methods, 46:1042–1051. doi: 10.3758/s13428-013-0439-6.

This paper announces this team’s database of acting videos and lays out some potential studies that they think other researchers can use this database to pursue.  Like I said, I think this is problematic because it belies a fundamental assumption that no one has tested about realistic acting, but it’s still kinda cool if you’d like to take a look.

Keefe et al. (2014)

2) Parsons, C.E., Young, K.S., Jegindo, E., Vuust, P., Stein, A., Kringelbach, M.L. (In Press). Musical training and empathy positively impact adults’ sensitivity to infant distress. Frontiers in Psychology, 5:1440. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01440.

Basically, parents with musical training were better at understanding their infants’ cries than nonmusical parents, and more empathetic people were better at understanding babies’ distress than less empathetic people.  It’s a far cry from establishing any causal link between musical training and empathy, but it’s an interesting parallel that seems to point to a connection on some level.

Parsons et al. (In Press)

Reformulated Individual Research Question

Can music be used to augment the naturally empathetic qualities of joint activities?  Does dancing with someone make us more sensitive to their emotional needs?

1) Goldstein, T.R. & Yasskin, R. (2014). Another pathway to understanding human nature: Theatre and dance. In Press. Tinio and J. Smith (Eds.), Cambridge Handbook of the Psychology of Aesthetics and the Arts. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Authored by my thesis adviser, this article looks at the performing arts and proposes that researchers examine them from the perspective of cognitive science.  Specifically, her research has a slant towards emotion regulation and empathy, and she discusses the anecdotal and correlational evidence for a positive effect of dance on empathy, while proposing experimental paradigms to examine a potential causal relationship between the two.

2) Witek, Maria A. G. (2009). Groove Experience: Emotional and Physiological Responses to Groove-Based Music. European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music, 573-582.

If rhythms can augment empathy between individuals, then a likely mechanism by which this happens seems to be that music’s groove.  Witek analyzed the ability of groove to elicit the same emotional responses across participants, but found something interesting: while each participant was able to identify and report a groove in the music, their evaluations of the music’s affective quality varied greatly.  Perhaps, then, it is not the urge to move (as produced by a groove) that affects our abilities to interpret another’s emotional response.  Perhaps a rhythm that is more consistently “on the beat” is needed to let us “tune in” to those around us.

Empathy and Musical Rhythm: A Literature Review

The emotional and unifying powers of music have long been recognized. Militaries use steady beats to instill a sense of camaraderie in their soldiers; sports players use high-energy pulses to “get angry” before a game; filmmakers use swelling musical works to shape their audiences’ responses to a scene. In all of these instances of emotional influence, a key is the manipulation of the music’s rhythm to elicit the desired feeling in listeners. These compositions are designed to create the same emotional experience across many individuals, relying on shared principles of human cognition in order to do so. Because of these shared principles, it seems likely, therefore, that music can be used to augment empathic responses in its listeners. This paper seeks to review the current literature related to this topic, examining the intersection of empathy and musical rhythm to evaluate possible a possible direction for research into this area. Specifically, I seek to examine whether variations in musical rhythm can influence listeners’ interpretations of others’ emotions and, by extension, their empathic responses to other individuals.

Since ancient times, musicians, audiences, and philosophers have recognized the powerful emotional component of music (Perlovsky, 2010). People regularly describe songs using emotional vocabulary, defining their favorite tunes as “happy,” “upbeat,” “angry,” “sad,” or with a host of other affective terms. In fact, evolutionary psychologists have theorized that music evolved from the same systems as language, diverging from the more concretely semantic process of human language to become a more emotional and semantically abstract artifact of human cognition. Both music and speech rely upon similar ideas of rhythm and pitch to convey messages, though musical sounds can draw upon much wider interpretations of these notions in order to do so. This idea, called superexpressive voice theory, supposes that music holds such power over its listeners because it acts upon the linguistic parts of the brain in a way that is more expressive—that is, more emotional—than normal human language (Perlovsky, 2010). Several psychological mechanisms have been proposed to account for this feature of music, most notably six by researchers Juslin and Västfjäll (2008): brain stem reflexes, evaluative conditioning, emotional contagion, visual imagery, episodic memory, and musical expectancy. While much research is left to be done to confirm that these mechanisms are at fact in play in music cognition, they provide us with a psychological framework which we can use to understand the other literature relevant to this topic.

This notion that music processing is due to universal features of human cognition is further supported by research conducted by Balkwill and Thompson (1999).   These researchers asked American men and women of various age groups (all of whom were unfamiliar with Hindustani music) to listen to several Hindustani melodies and to evaluate the dominant emotions and relative rhythmic complexity of each piece. For control, four experts in Hindustani music were also asked to evaluate each piece on the same bases; each expert also asserted that each recording used was a competent rendition of the piece. The thirty-four participants were found to be in agreement with regards not only to the rhythmic complexity of each piece, but also to the dominant emotion expressed in each melody, regardless of whether they were experts, had only a passing familiarity with the genre, or had never heard that type of music before (Balkwill & Thompson, 1999). Furthermore, the emotions that the participants identified in each piece were found to be in agreement with the emotions intended to be conveyed by each piece, despite the vast differences in cultural backgrounds between the composers of each melody and the participants listening to them (Balkwill & Thompson, 1999). This suggests that emotional responses to music transcend cultural differences and instead draw upon universal psychological features of their listeners.

From the perspective of musical rhythm, this makes sense, especially when one considers the phenomenon of musical entrainment. Clayton et al. (2005) broadly defines entrainment as “a phenomenon in which two or more independent rhythmic processes synchronize with each other.” When listening to music, for example, a walking person will unconsciously fall into step with the beat of the song, entraining the rhythm into their own physicality. Reviewing literature from the field of ethnomusicology, these researchers also found that this propensity for entrainment is found across cultures, again suggesting that a universal psychological process is at play (Clayton et al., 2005). Some research conducted has suggested that this process actually helps listeners to music focus their attention across domains, providing evidence for a possible means by which entrainment could lead to increased empathy (Escoffier et al., 2010). Participants in this study were presented with pictures of faces and houses, then asked to indicate whether each picture was oriented upright or had been inverted. In one condition, participants completed the task in silence; in another condition, a rhythm was played in the background and the images appeared on-beat; and in the third condition, the images appeared off-beat with the rhythm. Participants responded significantly more quickly to pictures presented in the on-beat condition than to those presented off-beat or in the silence condition. That is, the presence of a synchronous musical rhythm was found to facilitate the focusing of attention on visual stimuli (Escoffier et al., 2010).

On an interpersonal level, entrainment is a key component of joint action theory, a psychological theory which attempts to explain how individuals are able to perform complex tasks in conjunction with other people even with incomplete or no communication between the two groups (Knoblich et al., 2011). Knoblich et al. (2011) reviewed the literature in this field, finding that people tend to fall into synchronous patterns with one another even when they try not to, regardless of whether the task in question is dancing to music, walking together, or even just rocking in a chair side-by-side. They propose that this inclination towards interpersonal synchrony is also at play in empathetic responses between individuals.

Indeed, other research has supported the existence of a connection between musical entrainment and prosocial behavior. De Bruyn and colleagues (2008) worked with a group of elementary school children to test the effect of music on their social interaction and the effect of the level of their social interaction on their response to music.   First, they empirically quantified the impact of social interaction on the children’s dancing as they listened to music, investigating the children’s intensity of movement and the amount of synchronization with the beat. This study had two conditions: individual, where the children were separated by screens; and social, where the children danced in a group of their peers. The team of researchers found that the social environment caused a quantifiable increase in both the intensity of the children’s movement and their level of beat-synchronization. Furthermore, the researchers found an effect of the type of music played on the way that the kids embodied it; that is, the genre of music affected how the children danced in both the individual and social conditions (De Bruyn et al., 2008). More recent research has taken this step even farther, suggesting that physical embodiment of music—a phenomenon called “groove”—can actually increase the empathetic responses of those grooving to the music (Sevdalis & Raab, 2013). However, because these experiments were not specifically testing for this effect, more research is warranted before we can draw a firm connection between musical rhythm and empathy.

In testing this connection, research from other areas of cognitive science sheds some light on the feasibility of various methods. While the field of emotion cognition has gone back and forth in recent years on whether or not bodily arousal responses are differentiated enough to allow for direct measurement of emotion, recent research has given credence to supporters of this technique. One possible experiment, therefore, would be to measure participants’ emotional responses to rhythmic stimuli; thus, we could test whether musical rhythms are actually able to elicit similar affective responses across individuals, or whether individuals simply learn through social cues to report certain kinds of emotional states based on the type of rhythm played (Harrison et al., 2010). By seeing whether participants actually experience similar emotional responses or simply report doing so, we can gain further insight into the intersection of music and empathy.

Another possibility, though, is to test how musical rhythm impacts individuals’ ability to accurately identify the emotions that others are experiencing. To this end, researchers could utilize facial emotion recognition tasks, usually used in abnormal psychology to test patients’ abilities to empathize with and understand others. Such tasks present participants with several images of faces coded as one of several emotions and ask that they evaluate the emotion presented. Participants are then scored as to how closely their answers resemble those of the average person (Mueser et al., 1996). Such a test could be useful to measure the effect of mediating factors, such as the presence of a musical rhythm, on the ability of listeners to identify the emotions of others.

With this in mind, the question I seek to test is whether a rhythm can affect individuals’ interpretation of emotions expressed by other people. Specifically, if participants were shown images of faces coded as various emotions as they were played pieces of likewise-coded music, would they be able to more accurately (and reliably) interpret the expressions depicted in the faces?  Or, would their ability to do so be negatively impacted if they were played a piece of music that did not align emotionally with the facial expression shown? By exploring this question, we gain further insight into the psychological links between music, emotion, and empathy.

 

Works Cited

Balkwill, L., and Thompson, W.F. (1999).  A Cross-Cultural Investigation of the Perception of Emotion in Music: Psychophysical and Cultural Cues.  Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 17(1), pp. 43-64

Clayton, M., Sager, R., and Will, U. (2005). In time with the music: the concept of entrainment and its significance for ethnomusicology. European Meetings in Ethnomusicology, 11, pp. 3–142.

De Bruyn, L., Leman, M., Moelants, D. (2008).  Quantifying Children’s Embodiment of Musical Rhythm in Individual and Group Settings.  Miyazaki, K., Hiraga, Y., Adachi, M., Nakajima, Y., and Tsuzaki, M. (Eds.). Proceedings from ICMPC10: The 10th International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition. Sapporo, Japan.

Escoffier, N., Sheng, D. Y. J., and Schirmer, A. (2010).  Unattended musical beats enhance visual processing.  Acta Psychologica, 135(2010), pp. 12–16.

Harrison, N. A., Gray, M.A., Gianaros, P.J., and Critchley, H.D. (2010).  The Embodiment of Emotional Feelings in the Brain.  The Journal of Neuroscience, 30(38), pp. 12878-12884.

Juslin, P.N., & Västfjäll, D. (2008). Emotional responses to music: The need to consider underlying mechanisms. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 31(5), pp. 559-­621.

Knoblich, G., Butterfill, S., and Sebanz, N. (2011). Psychological Research on Joint Action: Theory and Data. In B. Ross (Ed.), The Psychology of Learning and Motivation (Vol. 54, pp. 59-101).  Burlington, MA: Academic Press.

Mueser, K. T., Doonan, R., Penn, D.L., Blanchard, J.J., Bellack, A.S., Nishith, P., and DeLeon, J. (1996).  Emotion Recognition and Social Competence in Chronic Schizophrenia.  Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 105, pp. 2,271-275.

Perlovsky, L. (2010). Musical emotions: Functions, origins, evolution. Physics of Life Reviews, 7(1), pp. 2-­27.

Sevdalis, V., & Raab, M. (2013). Empathy in sports, exercise, and the performing arts. Psychology of Sports and Exercise. doi: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2013.10.013.

How do variations in musical rhythms affect individuals’ interpretations of others’ emotions?

1) Escoffier, N., Sheng, D. Y. J., and Schirmer, A. (2010).  Unattended musical beats enhance visual processing.  Acta Psychologica, 135(2010), pp. 12–16.

Perhaps the most closely related study on this list, Escoffier et al. (2010) investigated whether and how a musical rhythm entrains a listener’s visual attention. Participants were presented with pictures of faces and houses and asked to indicate whether picture orientation was upright or inverted while either silence or a musical rhythm played in the background. In the beat condition, pictures could occur off-beat or on a rhythmically implied, silent beat. Pictures presented without the musical rhythm and off-beat were responded to more slowly than pictures presented on-beat, indicating that musical rhythm both synchronizes and facilitates concurrent processing of visual stimuli.

2) Knoblich, G., Butterfill, S., and Sebanz, N. (2011). Psychological Research on Joint Action: Theory and Data. In B. Ross (Ed.), The Psychology of Learning and Motivation (Vol. 54, pp. 59-101).  Burlington, MA: Academic Press.

This chapter in Ross (2011)’s book reviews current theoretical concepts and empirical findings surrounding coordination and joint action theory in order to provide a structured overview of the state of the field of joint action research.  It distinguishes between planned and emergent coordination. In planned coordination, agents’ behavior is driven by representations that specify the desired outcomes of joint action and the agent’s own part in achieving these outcomes. In emergent coordination, coordinated behavior occurs due to perception–action couplings that make multiple individuals act in similar ways, independently of joint plans.  It seems that either model could be used to analyze the role of musical entrainment, either as facilitating emergent coordination or acting as a nonverbal representation in planned coordination (although an emergent coordination model seems more likely).

3) De Bruyn, L., Leman, M., Moelants, D. (2008).  Quantifying Children’s Embodiment of Musical Rhythm in Individual and Group Settings.  Miyazaki, K., Hiraga, Y., Adachi, M., Nakajima, Y., and Tsuzaki, M. (Eds.). Proceedings from ICMPC10: The 10th International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition. Sapporo, Japan.

These researchers empirically quantified the impact of social interaction on movements made by children while listening and responding to music, investigating the children’s intensity of movement and the amount of synchronization with the beat in two conditions: individual, separated by screens, and social, moving together in groups of four encouraging social interaction. Data analysis showed that there is a social embodiment factor which can be measured and quantified. Furthermore there is also an effect found of the type of music on the gesture response, both in the individual and social context of the experiment.  I find this interesting in that it shows that social interaction can have an effect on music processing; now that the two are linked, I want to explore effects in the opposite direction.

4) Clayton, M., Sager, R., and Will, U. (2005). In time with the music: the concept of en- trainment and its significance for ethnomusicology. European Meetings in Ethnomusicology, 11, pp. 3–142.

“Entrainment, broadly defined, is a phenomenon in which two or more independent rhythmic processes synchronize with each other.”  This article explores the importance of this process across subfields within ethnomusicology while drawing upon research from various other disciplines, including physics, linguistics, and psychology.

5) Harrison, N. A., Gray, M.A., Gianaros, P.J., and Critchley, H.D. (2010).  The Embodiment of Emotional Feelings in the Brain.  The Journal of Neuroscience, 30(38), pp. 12878-12884.

This study disputes Walter Cannon’s challenge to peripheral theories of emotion that bodily arousal responses are too undifferentiated to account for the wealth of emotional feelings, combining sophisticated technologies to find instead that the experience of core and body-boundary-violation disgust are physiologically distinguishable.  This in turn provides evidence that emotional experience is biologically measurable and reveals a potential mechanism for consistent emotional embodiment across individuals listening to the same music.

6)  Juslin, P.N., & Västfjäll, D. (2008). Emotional responses to music: The need to consider underlying mechanisms. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 31(5), pp. 559-­621.

This large literature review presents a theoretical framework through which music listening may be understood to induce emotions on several levels, from brain stem reflexes to music expectancy.  I first came across this article a year ago and its framework has helped to guide my understanding and exploration into my research question.

7) Balkwill, L., and Thompson, W.F. (1999).  A Cross-Cultural Investigation of the Perception of Emotion in Music: Psychophysical and Cultural Cues.  Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 17(1), pp. 43-64

Judgments of emotion were significantly related to judgments of psychophysical dimensions (tempo, rhythmic complexity, melodic complexity, and pitch range) and, in some cases, to instrument timbre.  The findings suggest that listeners are sensitive to musically expressed emotion in an unfamiliar tonal system, and that this sensitivity is facilitated by psychophysical cues.

8) Perlovsky, L. (2010). Musical emotions: Functions, origins, evolution. Physics of Life Reviews, 7(1), pp. 2-­27.

This article reviews current theories of music origins and the role of musical emotions in the mind, proposing a theory of musical origin based on a fundamental role of music in cognition and evolution of consciousness and culture.  It provides an evolutionary and psychological framework through which emotional embodiment and music may be understood.

9)  Sevdalis, V., & Raab, M. (2013). Empathy in sports, exercise, and the performing arts. Psychology of Sports and Exercise. doi: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2013.10.013.

Another review article, this one provides a summary of the main findings from empirical studies that used empathy measurements in the domains of sports, exercise, and the performing arts (i.e., music, dance, and theatrical acting). Music, especially when participants have the ability to groove along to it, is shown to augment participants’ empathetic responses, although more research is needed to develop the model.

10) Mueser, K. T., Doonan, R., Penn, D.L., Blanchard, J.J., Bellack, A.S., Nishith, P., and DeLeon, J. (1996).  Emotion Recognition and Social Competence in Chronic Schizophrenia.  Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 105, pp. 2,271-275.

Going back to Article 1 on this list, this study provides a famous demonstration of the use of two kinds of emotion recognition tests.  In this case, these tests were administered to participants with and without schizophrenia to quantify the disease’s effect on emotion recognition and social competence.  However, it a similar method could be used to quantify musical rhythm’s effect on these two dimensions.

My Individual Research Question

Joint action theory is a widely-accepted social psychology theory which attempts to explain how individuals can coordinate their behavior to to complete tasks in tandem.  One fairly robust piece of evidence that supports the ideas put forth in joint action theory is interpersonal entrainment; that is, people are repeatedly shown to have a natural proclivity to fall into synchrony with one another, in everything from walking speeds to speech patterns.  On an cognitive and emotional level, this interpersonal entrainment manifests itself as, among other things, empathy and our ability to interpret facial expressions as emotive.

Similarly, as we’ve explored in class, researchers in the field of music cognition are working on models of musical entrainment, whereby the human body and mind adapt their rhythmic patterns to match those in a piece of music.  This leads to the phenomena of expectation theory (by which we are able to detect and predict rhythms in music) and emotional embodiment (by which rhythmic meters produce physiological responses that are correlated with human emotions).

My question is, then, if a steady rhythm can produce a similar physiological response across individuals, can that rhythm affect those individuals’ interpretation of emotions expressed by other people?  Specifically, if participants were shown images of faces coded as various emotions as they were played pieces of likewise-coded music, would they be able to more accurately (and reliably) interpret the expressions depicted in the faces?  Conversely, would their ability to do so be negatively impacted if they were played a piece of music that did not align affectively with the facial expression shown?  Put simply, how do varying tempos in musical rhythms affect individuals’ interpretations of others emotions?