Perceptions of Emotion in Music: Physical and Neurological Factors

Martha E. Banks, Ph.D.
Dawn F. Riley
Jennifer Smith

In 1978, Banks examined the effects of tempo, timbre, and mode on conscious perceptions of emotions, using variations of physical characteristics on a single piece of unknown music. The 1981 Banks research added the musical variable of meter to the 1978 study. The present study, conducted from June 1990 through May 1991, was designed to examine the effects of the impact of the physical characteristics of music, tempo (fast and slow), timbre (human voice and English horn), mode (major and melodic minor), meter (duple and triple), and neurological function of listeners on perceptions of eight groups of emotions.

Musical stimuli consisted of five variations on the first thirty measures of the "Credo" from the Mass in G (1975) of Martha Estina Banks. Participants were administered the 45-minute Ackerman-Banks Neuropsychological Rehabilitation Battery (A-BNRB) to determine general left and right cortical, midbrain, and brainstem function, summarizing the results of the forty discrete scales which reflect comprehensive analyses of neuropsychological status. That test was developed for use in rehabilitation hospitals, but has research utility for general information about overall brain functioning. There are no norms for normal populations; therefore the analysis involved the summing of overall performance according to the brain hemisphere involved in the performance of each task. Part of the standard administration of the A-BNRB involves gathering information about situations which might influence brain hemispheric functioning, such as history of head injury, use of drugs, including alcohol, and periods of loss of consciousness.

The baseline response measure, a Likert scale of the eight groups of emotions, was taken immediately after the completion of the A-BNRB. A five-minute relaxation exercise was delivered on the same playback equipment on which the musical stimuli were later played. Participants completed a second baseline questionnaire on their emotional states after the relaxation exercise. They listened to the five musical variations and responded to the emotional content of each piece of music. Significant results are summarized below.

Tempo Timbre Mode Meter Brain Hemisphere History of Injury
Interest-Excitement fast**           
Enjoyment-Joy fast*        right*  
Surprise-Startle (fast)    (major)      
Distress-Anguish slow***    (major) duple**    
Disgust-Contempt slow*           
Anger-Rage slow**          
Shame-Humiliation           yes*
Fear-Terror  left*         yes*
* p < .05
** p < .01
*** p < .001

Copyright 1997-2001 ABackans Diversified Computer Processing, Inc. All rights reserved.

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