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Sadness and happiness are amplified in solitary listening to music

Abstract

Previous studies have shown that music is a powerful means to convey affective states, but it remains unclear whether and how social context shape the intensity and quality of emotions perceived in music. Using a within-subject design, we studied this question in two experimental settings, i.e. when subjects were alone versus in company of others without direct social interaction or feedback. Non-vocal musical excerpts of the emotional qualities happiness or sadness were rated on arousal and valence dimensions. We found evidence for an amplification of perceived emotion in the solitary listening condition, i.e. happy music was rated as happier and more arousing when nobody else was around and, in an analogous manner, sad music was perceived as sadder. This difference might be explained by a shift of attention in the presence of others. The observed interaction of perceived emotion and social context did not differ for stimuli of different cultural origin.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 91120004 and 31371018) to Yan Bao, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to Yan Bao, Hanns Seidel Foundation to Jinfan Zhang and Sarita Silveira, and the China Scholarship Council to Taoxi Yang (No. [2014]3026) and Hui Li (No. [2009]3003).

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Correspondence to Yan Bao.

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Handling editor: Lola Cuddy (Queen’s University).

Reviewers: Liila Taruffi (Free University of Berlin), Sandra Garrido (Western Sydney University).

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Zhang, J., Yang, T., Bao, Y. et al. Sadness and happiness are amplified in solitary listening to music. Cogn Process 19, 133–139 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10339-017-0832-7

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Keywords

  • Emotion
  • Music perception
  • Social context
  • Attention
  • Sadness
  • Happiness