Reading the Mind in the Music: Linking Auditory and Visual Expressions of Emotion

Open Access
Kragness, Haley Elisabeth
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • David A. Rosenbaum, Thesis Supervisor
  • David A. Rosenbaum, Honors Advisor
  • Reginald Adams Jr., Faculty Reader
  • psychology
  • music
  • emotion
How can we label the rich emotions that music communicates? Predictably, much of the music and emotion literature thus far has focused on verbal labeling of musical excerpts (for example, “sad” and “happy”). However, verbal labels may not sufficiently capture the strength or complexity of music’s emotion. Facial expression, another modality of emotion expression, should be considered when describing music. The present study seeks to explore the relationship between musical, verbal, and facial expressions of emotion. In this study, undergraduate student listeners were asked to listen to three short musical excerpts, six times each. For each listening episode, participants were presented with either two emotional words or two emotional eye images. They were asked to decide which word or image best matched the emotion that the music communicated. Results indicated that facial expression labels were a viable alternative to verbal labels in simple emotional communication in music. Future studies should investigate the use of facial expression labels in complex musical emotions, as well as the effect of visual stimuli on individuals’ interpretations of music.