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Emotion. 2013 Jun;13(3):434-449. doi: 10.1037/a0031388. Epub 2013 Feb 11.

Universal and culture-specific factors in the recognition and performance of musical affect expressions.

Author information

Stockholm University.
Department of Music, Finnish Centre of Excellence in Interdisciplinary Music Research, University of Jyväskylä.
Department of Psychology, Sikkim University.
Faculty of Psychology, Osaka-Shoin Women's University.
Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM).


We present a cross-cultural study on the performance and perception of affective expression in music. Professional bowed-string musicians from different musical traditions (Swedish folk music, Hindustani classical music, Japanese traditional music, and Western classical music) were instructed to perform short pieces of music to convey 11 emotions and related states to listeners. All musical stimuli were judged by Swedish, Indian, and Japanese participants in a balanced design, and a variety of acoustic and musical cues were extracted. Results first showed that the musicians' expressive intentions could be recognized with accuracy above chance both within and across musical cultures, but communication was, in general, more accurate for culturally familiar versus unfamiliar music, and for basic emotions versus nonbasic affective states. We further used a lens-model approach to describe the relations between the strategies that musicians use to convey various expressions and listeners' perceptions of the affective content of the music. Many acoustic and musical cues were similarly correlated with both the musicians' expressive intentions and the listeners' affective judgments across musical cultures, but the match between musicians' and listeners' uses of cues was better in within-cultural versus cross-cultural conditions. We conclude that affective expression in music may depend on a combination of universal and culture-specific factors.

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