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?