Is The Recognition Of Music In Emotion Related To Intelligence?

21 Oct

Musicians are often seen as vessels for emotional meaning.  They are taught to perform, to capture, and tantalize their audience with melancholy or happiness.   But a question often arises in the context of music performance:  is the audience capable of comprehending these implied emotions?  Juslin and Luakka (2003) found that music is capable of conveying the four basic emotions of happiness, sadness, anger or fear.  But what about individual differences in the perception of emotion?  Are some more attune to emotions than others?

Joel E. Resnicow, Peter Salovey, Bruno H. Repp wanted to see if intelligence is influential to understanding emotions during music performances.   The researchers used the Mayer-Salovey-Carus Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT), to evaluate emotional intelligence (the perception of emotion, using emotions to produce thought, comprehending emotions, and managing emotions).  The participants were 24 undergraduate students from Yale, aged 18 – 22, and had varied  musical education.  The researchers concluded that music education was not important in the experimental design because Juslin (1997) found little effect of musical training on listeners’ ability to recognize emotions in music.

The study consisted of two parts: first, the participants took the MSCEIT.  Second, the participants listened to three classical piano pieces (Bach, Bartok, Persichetti) performed by one of the researchers.  The three pieces were played and recorded five times, with each performance focusing on a different emotional impressions in additional to a “normal” or intuitive performance that was performed with the composer’s intentions in mind.  During the playback section, Bach was played first, Perischetti second, and Bartok last.  The “normal” performance was initially played for the participants to be used as a relative standard in which one could  judge the emotional components of the four remaining performances.  Following each playback, the participants judged the degree to which the performance was happy, sad, angry, and fearful on a scale from 0 to 10.

The results showed a correlation between the MSCEIT scores and the music test.  The researchers concluded that individual differences in sensitivity to the emotions conveyed by music are related to ones emotional intelligence. Specifically, the MSCEIT scores related to how proficiently one could conceive an implied mood while listening to the musical examples.  Those that are better at doing so, might have a greater aptitude to simulate emotions internally (i.e. empathy) and externally (knowledge of emotions).   The researchers also suspect that ones ability to recognize emotion in speech relates to comprehending emotion in music (since this study, Megan Curtis at Tufts investigated music intervals and their emotive functions).  An interesting note: the female participants scored much higher than their male counterparts on both the MSCEIT and music tests.  Though the difference was non-significant, previous studies using the MSCEIT achieved similar results.

Resnicow, J.E., Salovey, P., & Repp, B.H. (2004). In recognition of emotion in music performance an aspect of emotional intelligence?. Music Perception, 22(1), 145-158.

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