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Emotional Content of Western Music Universally Recognized

Study with isolated African Mafa tribe suggests music appreciation not culturally determined

MONDAY, March 23 (HealthDay News) -- The emotional content of Western music appears to be universally recognized even by isolated African tribesman, and is not the result of acculturation, according to research reported March 19 in Current Biology.

Thomas Fritz, Ph.D., of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, and colleagues conducted an experiment using a study group of 21 members of the Mafa tribe of Cameroon (mean age, 62.3 years) and a group of 20 Westerners (mean age, 52.4 years). The two groups listened with earphones to 9-second to 15-second computer-generated piano pieces created to express the emotions: happy, sad and scared/fearful. The participants then were asked to match the emotion of the music to photos of faces from the Ekman archive depicting the same three emotions.

Both groups performed well above chance in correctly matching the music and corresponding photographs, the report indicates. The Mafas tended to interpret higher tempo as happy and lower tempo as scared/fearful; there was no tempo correlation for sad pieces, the researchers report. The categorization also was influenced by mode, with pieces in a major key seen as happy, minor key seen as fearful/scared and indefinite mode seen as sad, the investigators found.

"Results show that the Mafas recognized happy, sad and scared/fearful Western music excerpts above chance, indicating that the expression of these basic emotions in Western music can be recognized universally," the authors write.

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