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Sweetness is in the ear of the beholder: chord preference across United Kingdom and Pakistani listeners

Lahdelma, I. and Athanasopoulos, G. and Eerola, T. (2021) 'Sweetness is in the ear of the beholder: chord preference across United Kingdom and Pakistani listeners.', Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1502 (1). pp. 72-84.


The majority of research in the field of music perception has been conducted with Western participants, and it has remained unclear which aspects of music perception are culture dependent, and which are universal. The current study compared how participants unfamiliar with Western music (people from the Khowar and Kalash tribes native to Northwest Pakistan with minimal exposure to Western music) perceive affect (positive versus negative) in musical chords compared with United Kingdom (UK) listeners, as well as the overall preference for these chords. The stimuli consisted of four distinct chord types (major, minor, augmented, and chromatic) and were played as both vertical blocks (pitches presented concurrently) and arpeggios (pitches presented successively). The results suggest that the Western listener major-positive minor-negative affective distinction is opposite for Northwest Pakistani listeners, arguably because of the reversed prevalence of these chords in the two music cultures. The aversion to the harsh dissonance of the chromatic cluster is present cross-culturally, but the preference for the consonance of the major triad varies between UK and Northwest Pakistani listeners, depending on cultural familiarity. Our findings imply not only notable cultural variation but also commonalities in chord perception across Western and non-Western listeners.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:© 2020 The Authors. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of New York Academy of Sciences This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Date accepted:08 June 2021
Date deposited:13 August 2021
Date of first online publication:08 July 2021
Date first made open access:13 August 2021

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