A Cross-Cultural Approach to Psychological Mechanisms Underlying Emotional Reactions to Music

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: Music plays a crucial role in everyday life by enabling listeners to seek individual emotional experiences. To explain why such emotions occur, we must understand the underlying process that mediates between surface-level features of the music and aroused emotions. This thesis aimed to investigate how musical emotions are mediated by psychological mechanisms from a cross-cultural perspective.Study I manipulated four mechanisms by selecting ecologically valid pieces of music that featured information relevant for each mechanism. The results suggested that listeners’ emotions could be successfully predicted based on theoretically based manipulations of target mechanisms. However, Study I featured only listeners from a single culture, neglecting the possible role of contextual and individual factors.Study II investigated the prevalence of emotions, mechanisms, and listening motives in a web survey featuring listeners from both individualist and collectivist countries. Results indicated that patterns of prevalence of emotions and mechanisms were quite similar across cultures. Still, Study II found that certain emotions such as nostalgia and the mechanism episodic memory were more frequent in collectivist cultures. In contrast, sadness and the mechanism musical expectancy were more frequent in individualist cultures. Study II also suggested that listening motives were country-specific, rather than subject to the individualism-collectivism dimension.Study III explored how particular mechanisms are manifested within a collectivist cultural setting with great potential for deeply felt emotions: fado music in Portugal. Interviews with listeners provided in-depth information on how the cultural context might shape listening motives and emotions. The results revealed that listeners strived for musical experiences that would arouse culturally valued emotions. Music-evoked nostalgia and contextual factors were regarded as important and contributed to an enhanced sense of wellbeing.Study IV tested the influence of lyrics on the emotions induced by Swedish and Portuguese pieces of music. The results revealed cross-cultural differences in how lyrics influenced emotions. The differences were not related to the music’s origin, but to the listener’s origin, suggesting that the impact of lyrics depends on the cultural background of the listener.In conclusion, the thesis suggests that cultural factors serve as moderators of effects of biologically based mechanisms for emotion induction.