Music-to-Color Associations of Single-Line Piano Melodies in Non-synesthetes

In: Multisensory Research
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  • 1 1Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-1650, USA
  • | 2 2Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA
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Prior research has shown that non-synesthetes’ color associations to classical orchestral music are strongly mediated by emotion. The present study examines similar cross-modal music-to-color associations for much better controlled musical stimuli: 64 single-line piano melodies that were generated from four basic melodies by Mozart, whose global musical parameters were manipulated in tempo (slow/fast), note-density (sparse/dense), mode (major/minor) and pitch-height (low/high). Participants first chose the three colors (from 37) that they judged to be most consistent with (and, later, the three that were most inconsistent with) the music they were hearing. They later rated each melody and each color for the strength of its association along four emotional dimensions: happy/sad, agitated/calm, angry/not-angry and strong/weak. The cross-modal choices showed that faster music in the major mode was associated with lighter, more saturated, yellower (warmer) colors than slower music in the minor mode. These results replicate and extend those of Palmer et al. (, Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. 110, 8836–8841) with more precisely controlled musical stimuli. Further results replicated strong evidence for emotional mediation of these cross-modal associations, in that the emotional ratings of the melodies were very highly correlated with the emotional associations of the colors chosen as going best/worst with the melodies (r=0.92,0.85,0.82 and 0.70 for happy/sad, strong/weak, angry/not-angry and agitated/calm, respectively). The results are discussed in terms of common emotional associations forming a cross-modal bridge between highly disparate sensory inputs.

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