Musical associations vary among residents of different countries

(ORDO NEWS) — The scientists compared the pictures and stories that appeared in the imagination of the inhabitants of China and the United States when listening to the same instrumental musical passages.

Associations differed significantly between Chinese and Americans, but were very similar among people within the same country and culture.

Scientists from Princeton and Michigan Universities (USA) asked whether the associations that arise when listening to the same music can be the same for different people, or whether these images are subjective and music cannot be called a “universal language”.

The results of the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that music can paint surprisingly similar pictures in the minds of listeners from similar cultures. However, its perception among residents of different countries varies greatly.

The study involved 622 people from three regions. They came from two US college campuses, one in Arkansas and one in Michigan. The third group came from the Chinese village of Dimen, where the main language is Dun, while residents have limited access to Western media.

All three groups of participants listened to 32 identical pieces of instrumental music without words. Each melody lasted 60 seconds: one half of the passages were Chinese music, the other was Western. After listening to each part, the subjects described the stories and images that arose in their imagination.

Listeners in Arkansas and Michigan saw very similar stories, often using the same words to describe the images. The associations of the inhabitants of Diemen resembled each other, but were very different from the associations of the Americans.

For example, one of the musical passages reminded listeners from the USA of the sunrise over the forest, the awakening of animals and the singing of birds, while the inhabitants of Diemen described a man in the mountains singing a song to a girl he is in love with.

Another tune conjured up the image of a lonely cowboy sitting in the sunny desert and contemplating an empty city in the American imagination, while the Chinese imagined an old man mourning the loss of his beloved.

The researchers carefully controlled that the selected fragments could not occur in movie soundtracks, advertisements, or other contexts associated with visual imagery.

But the same music invariably evoked similar associations in hundreds of listeners who grew up surrounded by the same culture. And in the event that neither the origin nor the cultural characteristics were common to people, their perception of music varied greatly.


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