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Latest News on Brunswikian Music Psychology

Patrik Juslin
Uppsala, Sweden

Music is probably the most widely practiced and appreciated of all art forms. One possible explanation for this may be that music offers a powerful means of emotional communication. Knowledge is scarce on this issue, however, in particular when it comes to performance of music. It may be argued that this partly stems from a lack of relevant theories. In my doctoral dissertation (Juslin, 1998a), I proposed a theoretical framework, the Functionalist Perspective, that integrates ideas from research on emotion and nonverbal communication with Brunswik's Lens Model. The usefulness of this framework was illustrated in three studies.

The first study showed that professional guitar players were able to play a piece of music so as to communicate specific emotions (i.e., happiness, sadness, anger, fear) to listeners. Acoustical analyses revealed that the performers used a number of probabilistic but partly redundant cues in the performance (e.g., tempo, sound level, and articulation) to generate the desired emotional expression (Juslin, 1997a).

The second study showed that synthesized performances based on the empirical data of Study I yielded predicted judgments of emotional expression from listeners. It was further shown that listeners used tempo, sound level, articulation, frequency spectrum, and tone attacks in their judgments. Linear regression models provided a good fit to cue utilization, and the cues contributed independently to judgments (Juslin, 1997b).

The third study used multiple regression analysis to describe cue utilization of both performers and listeners. The two systems were then related by means of the Lens Model Equation. The results showed that (a) about 80 percent of the variance in the listeners' judgments could be explained by the performer's expressive intention, (b) the accuracy of the communication depended mainly on the extent to which the cue weights of the performer "matched" the cue weights of the listener, (c) cue utilization was more consistent across pieces of music than across performers, and (d) there were cross-modal similarities in code usage between music performance and vocal expression of emotion. It was thus suggested that performers are able to communicate emotions to listeners by using the same acoustical code as is used in vocal expression (Juslin, 1998b).

I have stayed busy in the laboratory during the summer, working on two new projects with a Brunswikian flavor. The first project is an attempt to use Cognitive Feedback to improve the expressive skills of novice performers (Juslin & Laukka, in preparation). The background of this project is that it recently has been found that music teachers often fail to address expressive aspects of music performance, instead concentrating their time and effort on technical aspects. One reason for this may be that emotions are expressed and recognized in (mainly) implicit ways. Thus, teachers may find it difficult to verbalize many aspects of their expressive skills. This view is supported by studies suggesting that the feedback that teachers give their students is too vague to allow for the improvement of the students' expressive skills. In our study, we provide novice performers with a chance to compare their own cue utilization to the optimal model based on listeners' cue utilization. This involves a (distressingly) complicated pretest-posttest control group design which combines between-subjects and within-subjects measures to evaluate the efficacy of the feedback. We use both behavioral criteria and reaction criteria for the assessment, and we also measure the performers' policy insights prior to feedback. The study is still underway, but we are pretty confident that CFB will have positive effects on performers' expressive skills.

The second project concerns the importance of timing patterns in communication of emotion through piano performance (Juslin & Madison, in preparation). Through digital re-synthesis, we have been able to gradually eliminate various expressive cues from musical performances in order to see how these cue reductions affect listeners' judgments of the emotional expression. The preliminary results suggest that (a) listeners do use timing patterns to decode emotional expressions, (b) timing patterns are less effective in communicating emotions to listeners than are tempo and dynamics, (c) elimination of timing patterns does not necessarily reduce listeners' decoding accuracy (due to redundant information provided by other cues), (d) fear expressions and happiness expressions are more dependent on timing than are anger and sadness expressions, and (e) timing patterns alone are capable of communicating fear with better than chance accuracy. Idiographic analyses of the listeners' judgments of both impaired and unimpaired piano performances could yield further insights into the judgment policies of the listeners. This knowledge, in turn, could prove to be useful in music education.

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