Music Evokes 13 Emotions Now Mapped

January 8, 2020

UC Berkeley scientists have surveyed more than 2,500 people in the United States and China about their emotional responses to these and thousands of other songs from genres including rock, folk, jazz, classical, marching band, experimental and heavy metal.

The upshot? The subjective experience of music across cultures can be mapped within at least 13 overarching feelings: Amusement, joy, eroticism, beauty, relaxation, sadness, dreaminess, triumph, anxiety, scariness, annoyance, defiance, and feeling pumped up.

Opoids are also responsible for music’s myriad effects on mood, pain and well-being, giving clues to how we can harness its benefits even how it affects our aging.

Like other pleasurable experiences, there are two components to enjoying music: anticipation of hearing your favourite song, and then actually hearing it. The brain signalling chemical dopamine, which is linked to reward, is involved in both phases. But neuroscientists have wondered for decades whether there was more to it — what gives music its power to induce euphoria?

“Imagine organizing a massively eclectic music library by emotion and capturing the combination of feelings associated with each track. That’s essentially what our study has done,” said study lead author Alan Cowen, a UC Berkeley doctoral student in neuroscience.

The findings are set to appear in the online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We have rigorously documented the largest array of emotions that are universally felt through the language of music,” said study senior author Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology.

Cowen and fellow researchers have translated the data into an interactive audio map where visitors can move their cursors to listen to any of thousands of music snippets to find out, among other things, if their emotional reactions match how people from different cultures respond to the music.

Potential applications for these research findings range from informing psychological and psychiatric therapies designed to evoke certain feelings to helping music streaming services like Spotify adjust their algorithms to satisfy their customers’ audio cravings or set the mood.

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