Poster—SMPC 2019: The Importance of Utilizing Emotional Granularity in Music and Emotion Research


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Description: Music, perhaps more than any other art form, is able to influence moods and affect behavior. Innumerable accounts of music elicit feelings of nostalgia, transcendence, and other seemingly ineffable emotions. In the scientific study of music and emotion, however, approximately five music-induced emotions have been studied in depth: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, and tenderness (Juslin, 2013; Warrenburg, 2019). Although these emotions are certainly important and can be expressed and elicited through music listening, a pertinent question is whether these five words accurately capture all affective states related to music. I argue that in order to better understand emotional responses to musical stimuli, we must change the way we use emotional terminology and examine emotional behaviors. Drawing on recent psychological research on emotional granularity (Barrett, 2004), this research will be the first to examine how differences in musical structure can result in subtle shades of emotion, such as melancholy versus grief. An experiment consistent with this idea is reviewed, where participants were asked to respond to nominally-sad excerpts with more emotionally-granular terms, such as melancholy and grief. The results are consistent with the idea that listeners are able to utilize these emotionally-granular terms to identify sub-groups of music, previously unrecognized in the music and emotion literature. By using more emotionally-granular terms, we aim to alleviate the problem of semantic underdetermination in music and emotion research. I further suggest that some of the inconclusive results from previous meta-analyses may be due to the inconsistent use of emotion terms throughout the music community. As music is often used to change people’s emotions, my research holds implications for future music psychological experiments, media outlets, and commercial sources.


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