Musicologists, practitioners, and critics have recognised that contemporary music is often challenging to audiences used to traditional western music structures. However, this music can be enjoyable. We conducted a study to understand why some listeners respond positively and others negatively to this music, identifying the cognitive and emotional processes that facilitate those responses in concerts. We purchased an audience response system that facilitates the collection of continuous psychological and physiological markers of experience from an entire audience. It also enabled other researchers in the University to study audience responses.
During the study, contemporary music was performed in front of an audience (with varying knowledge and experience of this type of music). We continuously assessed the three different components of emotional responses:
a) subjective emotional experience of the music using a 2-dimensional rating interface that was created using the software TouchOSC on iPad Minis 2. It allowed the participants to report their arousal level and pleasantness of their current emotional state.
b) activation of the peripheral nervous system by recording skin conductance and heart rate using 45 Shimmer GSR+ devices.
c) the activity of two facial muscles which are associated with emotional valence (corrugator = negative valence; zygomaticus major = positive valence) using 45 Shimmer EMG devices.
After each performance, participants were asked to fill in an online questionnaire on their iPads. Participants were asked to assess the music presented on a list of commonly discussed aesthetic judgement criteria, including expressivity, originality, taste, skill, and intention, that all are thought to contribute to the perceived aesthetic value of a piece of art (Juslin, 2013).
We recruited 45 participants, which ensured that statistical test power was high enough to test for medium sized relationships among variables. Our hypothesis was that in general, those participants that rate aesthetic values of the music higher, would show more positive activations of the three response components measured (feeling, physiological arousal, and expression), compared to those participants that rate the aesthetic value of the music lower. This finding could then be interpreted as an indication of an interaction between cognitive and affective processes.