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1.  A dynamically minimalist cognitive explanation of musical preference: is familiarity everything? 
This paper examines the idea that attraction to music is generated at a cognitive level through the formation and activation of networks of interlinked “nodes.” Although the networks involved are vast, the basic mechanism for activating the links is relatively simple. Two comprehensive cognitive-behavioral models of musical engagement are examined with the aim of identifying the underlying cognitive mechanisms and processes involved in musical experience. A “dynamical minimalism” approach (after Nowak, 2004) is applied to re-interpret musical engagement (listening, performing, composing, or imagining any of these) and to revise the latest version of the reciprocal-feedback model (RFM) of music processing. Specifically, a single cognitive mechanism of “spreading activation” through previously associated networks is proposed as a pleasurable outcome of musical engagement. This mechanism underlies the dynamic interaction of the various components of the RFM, and can thereby explain the generation of positive affects in the listener’s musical experience. This includes determinants of that experience stemming from the characteristics of the individual engaging in the musical activity (whether listener, composer, improviser, or performer), the situation and contexts (e.g., social factors), and the music (e.g., genre, structural features). The theory calls for new directions for future research, two being (1) further investigation of the components of the RFM to better understand musical experience and (2) more rigorous scrutiny of common findings about the salience of familiarity in musical experience and preference.
doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00038
PMCID: PMC3915416  PMID: 24567723
musical experience; cognitive model; reciprocal-feedback model; spreading activation; mind-body; neural networks; preference; familiarity
2.  Emotion felt by the listener and expressed by the music: literature review and theoretical perspectives 
In his seminal paper, Gabrielsson (2002) distinguishes between emotion felt by the listener, here: “internal locus of emotion” (IL), and the emotion the music is expressing, here: “external locus of emotion” (EL). This paper tabulates 16 comparisons of felt versus expressed emotions in music published in the decade 2003–2012 consisting of 19 studies/experiments and provides some theoretical perspectives. The key findings were that (1) IL rating was frequently rated statistically the same or lower than the corresponding EL rating (e.g., lower felt happiness rating compared to the apparent happiness of the music), and that (2) self-select and preferred music had a smaller gap across the emotion loci than experimenter-selected and disliked music. These key findings were explained by an “inhibited” emotional contagion mechanism, where the otherwise matching felt emotion may have been attenuated by some other factor such as social context. Matching between EL and IL for loved and self-selected pieces was explained by the activation of “contagion” circuits. Physiological arousal, personality and age, as well as musical features (tempo, mode, putative emotions) also influenced perceived and felt emotion distinctions. A variety of data collection formats were identified, but mostly using rating items. In conclusion, a more systematic use of terminology appears desirable. Two broad categories, namely matched and unmatched, are proposed as being sufficient to capture the relationships between EL and IL, instead of four categories as suggested by Gabrielsson.
doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00837
PMCID: PMC3865445  PMID: 24381565
expressed and felt emotion in music; emotion locus; contagion; normative dissociation; contrast effect; affect valence; literature review
3.  Acoustic Intensity Causes Perceived Changes in Arousal Levels in Music: An Experimental Investigation 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(4):e18591.
Listener perceptions of changes in the arousal expressed by classical music have been found to correlate with changes in sound intensity/loudness over time. This study manipulated the intensity profiles of different pieces of music in order to test the causal nature of this relationship. Listeners (N = 38) continuously rated their perceptions of the arousal expressed by each piece. An extract from Dvorak's Slavonic Dance Opus 46 No 1 was used to create a variant in which the direction of change in intensity was inverted, while other features were retained. Even though it was only intensity that was inverted, perceived arousal was also inverted. The original intensity profile was also superimposed on three new pieces of music. The time variation in the perceived arousal of all pieces was similar to their intensity profile. Time series analyses revealed that intensity variation was a major influence on the arousal perception in all pieces, in spite of their stylistic diversity.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0018591
PMCID: PMC3080387  PMID: 21533095
4.  Cognitive and affective judgements of syncopated musical themes 
This study investigated cognitive and emotional effects of syncopation, a feature of musical rhythm that produces expectancy violations in the listener by emphasising weak temporal locations and de-emphasising strong locations in metric structure. Stimuli consisting of pairs of unsyncopated and syncopated musical phrases were rated by 35 musicians for perceived complexity, enjoyment, happiness, arousal, and tension. Overall, syncopated patterns were more enjoyed, and rated as happier, than unsyncopated patterns, while differences in perceived tension were unreliable. Complexity and arousal ratings were asymmetric by serial order, increasing when patterns moved from unsyncopated to syncopated, but not significantly changing when order was reversed. These results suggest that syncopation influences emotional valence (positively), and that while syncopated rhythms are objectively more complex than unsyncopated rhythms, this difference is more salient when complexity increases than when it decreases. It is proposed that composers and improvisers may exploit this asymmetry in perceived complexity by favoring formal structures that progress from rhythmically simple to complex, as can be observed in the initial sections of musical forms such as theme and variations.
doi:10.2478/v10053-008-0094-0
PMCID: PMC3259101  PMID: 22253676
syncopation; serial asymmetry; affective response; cognition; rhythm; emotion; musical form

Results 1-4 (4)