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Cultural familiarity and musical expertise impact the pleasantness of consonance/dissonance but not its perceived tension.

Lahdelma, I. and Eerola, T. (2020) 'Cultural familiarity and musical expertise impact the pleasantness of consonance/dissonance but not its perceived tension.', Scientific reports., 10 . p. 8693.


The contrast between consonance and dissonance is vital in making music emotionally meaningful. Consonance typically denotes perceived agreeableness and stability, while dissonance disagreeableness and a need of resolution. This study addresses the perception of consonance/dissonance in single intervals and chords with two empirical experiments conducted online. Experiment 1 explored the perception of a representative sample of intervals and chords to investigate the overlap between the seven most used concepts (Consonance, Smoothness, Purity, Harmoniousness, Tension, Pleasantness, Preference) denoting consonance/dissonance in all the available (60) empirical studies published since 1883. The results show that the concepts exhibit high correlations, albeit these are somewhat lower for non-musicians compared to musicians. In Experiment 2 the stimuli’s cultural familiarity was divided into three levels, and the correlations between the key concepts of Consonance, Tension, Harmoniousness, Pleasantness, and Preference were further examined. Cultural familiarity affected the correlations drastically across both musicians and non-musicians, but in different ways. Tension maintained relatively high correlations with Consonance across musical expertise and cultural familiarity levels, making it a useful concept for studies addressing both musicians and non-musicians. On the basis of the results a control for cultural familiarity and musical expertise is recommended for all studies investigating consonance/dissonance perception.

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Publisher statement:This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit
Date accepted:29 April 2020
Date deposited:27 May 2020
Date of first online publication:26 May 2020
Date first made open access:27 May 2020

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