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.

One thought on “How do variations in musical rhythms affect individuals’ interpretations of others’ emotions?

  1. This preliminary bibliography seems to touch on all the main elements in your question, i.e., emotion, joint action, and empathy. You might also want to look up some of the studies on perception of emotion based on gesture and facial expression in music (most of these involve singers). There also doesn’t seem to be much that relates directly to rhythm, apart from the question of entrainment. That might be something to explore a little more, if not now, then between the lit review and your progress report in November.

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