Date of Submission

Spring 2016

Academic Programs and Concentrations


Project Advisor 1

Justin Hulbert

Abstract/Artist's Statement

While research suggests that listeners from diverse cultural backgrounds can infer what mood is expressed in a piece from a different culture, no study to date has assessed whether peak emotional responses can also be induced cross-culturally. The chill response in particular has been defined as a sudden increase in emotional arousal elicited by a passage in music. This study addressed the question of whether listeners could experience chills for traditional Chinese music – with which they were either familiar or unfamiliar – as well as for Western classical music – with which all participants were familiar. Chills were measured through self-report and skin conductance while participants listened to pieces selected from each style. In accordance with the hypothesis, there was no significant difference in the number of chills felt in response to both styles of music, regardless of whether participants were familiar or unfamiliar with traditional Chinese music. However, both groups of participants showed significantly fewer chills when listening to scrambled versions of the same pieces, which acted as a control. Scrambled music was also rated as less likable and harder to pay attention to across groups. Overall, pieces that had received higher liking and attention ratings were found to elicit more chills. Thus, even under limited exposure, listeners can experience strong emotional responses to music from an unfamiliar culture as much as listeners familiar with that music. This contrasts with the view that all musical meaning is generated within a culture and suggests instead that there are cross-cultural cues capable of eliciting powerful emotions in people of all backgrounds.

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