Emotional swings make for great music

Photo courtesy of Jendi’s Journal

Different people like different types of music, but one research group recently discovered a unifying “like factor” for all types of music and people. Using a population of Toronto university students, this study showed that people like a musical piece more if it conveys a contrasting emotion. This is partially due to neurological habituation and the contrast effect.

Habituation is the dulling of response after multiple exposures to the same condition, while the contrast effect is an increased perceived intensity of a stimulus that opposes a previous stimulus.

In this project, researchers had participants listen to 30 second clips of either happy or sad piano music and rate how much they liked the piece as well as how intense the like feeling was on a set scoring scale.

The first experiment involved 46 participants whom listened to randomly selected happy or sad music clips. The pattern of music that was given to each participant was ABAAAAAAAAAAAAAB where A is either happy or sad and B is the contrasting emotion. Results showed an initially matched liking and intensity for A and B. Intensity and liking of A decreased with repeat exposure, while intensity and liking for the second B was greater than or equal to the initial B exposure.

The second experiment involved a new set of 48 participants whom listened to 1, 2, 4, or 8 excerpts of music expressing the background emotion, A, before hearing the musical contrast, B. At one and two presentations of A, little difference from B was seen in liking and intensity of emotion. However, A’s liking and intensity rating decreased significantly compared to B’s at 4 and 8 presentations of A.

The experiments showed:

– Increased emotional response and appreciation for a piece of music when the music contrasted the previous piece.
– Liking and intensity ratings were positively correlated.
– Rating patterns did not differ depending on which emotion, happy or sad, was the contrasting emotion.

It seems as though people like music more that is different than what they have been listening to consistently. Perhaps vary your own music listening habits from week to week, and you’ll love your favorite songs even more.

Reference:
E. Glenn Schellenberg, Kathleen A. Corrigall, Olivia Ladinig, David Huron. 2012. Changing the Tune: Listeners Like Music that Expresses a Contrasting Emotion. Frontiers in Psychology.
http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00574

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