Tuesday, December 07, 2004

"Is Recognition of Emotion in Music Performance an Aspect of Emotional Intelligence?"

This experiment measured the relationship between the ability to recognize emotion in music and an individual’s emotional intelligence, or their ability to understand, “read”, and manage emotions. I want to start out with some psychology background and definitions that aren’t in the article so you can understand the article better.

There are many theories about emotions, the two main being that there are fundamental emotions (this is the dominant approach) and the other is that there are no basic emotions, there are just dimensions (a continuum). Focusing on the theory of fundamental emotions, experts have suggested a variety of basic emotions from happiness to contempt. These theories overlap on six basic emotions: happiness (joy), fear, surprise, sadness, anger and disgust. This study focused on four of these: happiness, sadness, anger and fear.

Two other terms used throughout the article, are the “significance” and the “correlation” of results. When results are significant, it simply means that they could not have been caused by chance alone. The correlation of two factors determines their significance. There are three types of correlation. A positive correlation occurs as the number gets closer to +1, this means that as one variable goes up, the other goes up. A zero correlation occurs when the number gets closer to -1 (as one goes up, the other goes down). Positive and negative correlations are equally strong. A negative correlation means that the two variables aren’t related at all. If the correlation is above +.50 or below -.50, the results are significant. This will make more sense as I get more into the experiment. Keep in mind however, that if two variables are correlated, this does not mean that one caused the other.

As stated before, this study focused on the relationship between emotional intelligence and the ability to recognize emotion in music performance. Twenty four undergraduate students participated in this study. They took an emotional intelligence test called the MSCEIT (Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test). This test measures four things: “perceiving emotions, using emotions to facilitate thought, understanding emotions, and managing emotions.” These factors are measured using pictures, generating emotion and then matching sensations to it, being able to identify combinations of emotions, etc. The researchers compared these results to the results of the musical test.

The musical test was made of three piano pieces that were played with the four different emotions. The pieces were Prelude No. 6 in D minor by Bach, Bartók’s “Children’s Song” in C major, and Persichetti’s “Dialogue” No. 3, Andante. These pieces were selected because of their length, they are all contrasting styles, and the natural emotions contained within each piece is relatively neutral. Author and amateur pianist, B.R performed the pieces.

The participants took the MSCEIT test at least twenty four hours before they came to the lab to hear the recordings. The performances stayed in the same order- Bach first, Persichetti second, and Bartók third. The “normal” performance was always first and the four emotions were played randomly afterwards. The participants rated on a scale of 1-10 the emotional content. This table, shows the difference between the emotions played and the normal performance in the duration of intervals, and loudness (show figure 1).

The results of the MSCEIT test scores ranged from 78-142. A man held the highest score, but there was a tendency for women to score higher. The difference between men’s and women’s scores was only .14- not significant. The results of the music test were similar, women tended to score higher on this as well, with a correlation of .21- also not significant. Each piece had different results. This figure shows the differences between each piece (show figure 2).

The Bach piece had the least success in conveying the emotion. The normal performance was rated as sounding sadder, which makes sense because it is in a minor key at a somewhat slower tempo. The Bach was only successful in showing two of the four emotions- happiness and anger.

When played normally, the Bartók piece was rated as being relatively happy which also makes sense because it is in a major key and has a quicker tempo. This performance was slightly more effective than the Bach, conveying three of the intended emotions- everything but happiness. This could be because the normal performance was rated as happy.

The Persichetti was the most successful, conveying all four emotions. The normal performance was rated as a little sad but this didn’t effect any other emotions as it did in the other two.
The level of musical training varied greatly in participants as well, ranging anywhere between zero to fifteen but the correlation between years of musical training and scores on the musical tests was a mere .08. Also, the correlation between the total scores of the two tests (MSCEIT and music test) was significantly and positively related (.54) As I said before, this means that as one score rose, the other did as well. The MSCEIT test was split into a few different categories, two of which were the experimental score and the strategic score. The experimental score was significantly and positively related to the score on the music test.

The results tell researchers that an individual’s ability to read emotion in real life and in music performance is related. There is a difference between recognizing emotion in music performance and recognizing the emotion of the way the music is built, its structure. This includes “mode, pitch register, range, and contour, dissonance, harmonic progression, and rhythm…”
As any performer would know, playing a piece involves a lot of emotional involvement. It wouldn’t seem right to play an inherently happy or even neutral piece, sadly. This experiment on one hand tests an individual’s emotional recognition. One the other hand, it is “somewhat like changing one’s tone of voice or facial expression in order to disguise one’s true feelings.” What the performer is playing and what is natural for the music are conflicting in this experiment. What this all means, is that in this experiment, the performer was trying to play the piece a certain way. In a real performance, it would take a lot more emotional intelligence to detect the emotion the performer is using.

Much more research needs to be done on this topic for a couple reasons. The sample of participants was so small, the experiment needs to be done with more people. Also, the music was played by an individual author. There might be a difference in the results if the performer was a professional.

This experiment provides a lot of insight to how musical performance and emotional intelligence are positively and significantly correlated. The results encourage us to pay more attention to auditory events as we can interpret the emotions involved.