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Harmonic organisation conveys both universal and culture-specific cues for emotional expression in music

Athanasopoulos, George and Eerola, Tuomas and Lahdelma, Imre and Kaliakatsos-Papakostas, Maximos (2021) 'Harmonic organisation conveys both universal and culture-specific cues for emotional expression in music.', PLoS ONE., 16 (1).


Previous research conducted on the cross-cultural perception of music and its emotional content has established that emotions can be communicated across cultures at least on a rudimentary level. Here, we report a cross-cultural study with participants originating from two tribes in northwest Pakistan (Khow and Kalash) and the United Kingdom, with both groups being naïve to the music of the other respective culture. We explored how participants assessed emotional connotations of various Western and non-Western harmonisation styles, and whether cultural familiarity with a harmonic idiom such as major and minor mode would consistently relate to emotion communication. The results indicate that Western concepts of harmony are not relevant for participants unexposed to Western music when other emotional cues (tempo, pitch height, articulation, timbre) are kept relatively constant. At the same time, harmonic style alone has the ability to colour the emotional expression in music if it taps the appropriate cultural connotations. The preference for one harmonisation style over another, including the major-happy/minor-sad distinction, is influenced by culture. Finally, our findings suggest that although differences emerge across different harmonisation styles, acoustic roughness influences the expression of emotion in similar ways across cultures; preference for consonance however seems to be dependent on cultural familiarity.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:PLOS applies the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license to works we publish. Under this license, anyone may access, copy, distribute, or reuse these articles, as long as the author and original source are properly cited.
Date accepted:19 December 2020
Date deposited:17 March 2021
Date of first online publication:13 January 2021
Date first made open access:17 March 2021

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