Draft only! Not for citation. Comments welcome. Does Music Arouse Genuine Emotion or Emotional Feelings? Jenefer Robinson University of Cincinnati Geneva, June 2009 Introduction


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Draft only! Not for citation. Comments welcome.
Does Music Arouse Genuine Emotion or Emotional Feelings?

Jenefer Robinson

University of Cincinnati

Geneva, June 2009

In Deeper than Reason I tried to show that there are multiple mechanisms whereby music arouses emotions in listeners, and I suggested that a major reason why the emotions music arouses are often said to be “ineffable” is that they are the products of different mechanisms all working simultaneously. In one moment or passage of a piece of music not only might there be conflicts among different emotions, blends of different emotions, and a morphing of one emotion into another, but also the various emotions that blend or conflict or morph are likely to be produced by different mechanisms. In this paper I want to pursue this line of argument from a slightly different angle by showing how different theories – or types of theory – of emotion emphasize different mechanisms of emotion arousal.

There is pretty widespread agreement today among psychologists who study emotion that emotion is a process in which there are a number of elements: a focus of attention on something significant to the person or organism, an appraisal of it, physiological responses and action tendencies, feelings of those responses, and consequent behavior. Emotions present the world as having a certain gestalt: the resentful person sees offenses and injustices to himself; the jealous person sees evidence of infidelity in the beloved; the anxious person sees the world as threatening.1 I have said that different emotions theories emphasize different mechanisms of emotion arousal. There are, of course, disagreements among theorists of emotion and not every theory of emotion is going to prove correct in all aspects. Nevertheless, for the most part, the disagreements are, it seems to me, differences of emphasis rather than deep-seated differences on principle. Hence I think it makes sense to examine different theories of emotion to see what we can glean from each of them about how music arouses emotions. It’s my view that each of the three main types of theory I am going to consider has something to teach us about the emotional effects of music.2
I. Cognitive Appraisal Theories.

I think it’s fair to say that most theorists of emotion not only in psychology but also in philosophy, anthropology and other disciplines defend a “cognitive appraisal” theory of emotions, the idea that some evaluation or interpretation of a situation is the most important element in the emotion process and more particularly, it is what sets the whole process in motion. You tread on my toe. I interpret or evaluate this action of your as a deliberate insult. This angry appraisal sets off physiological responses such as an increased heart rate and action tendencies such as clenching the fists, adopting an aggressive posture etc. My face becomes contorted; I raise my voice and everyone around can see that I am in a state of anger. The initial appraisal is largely what defines the emotion episode as an angry episode rather than an episode of fear or joy. In fear I appraise the stimulus as a threat. In joy I appraise it as a boon. Emotions have so-called intentional objects, something that the emotion is about or to which it is targeted, which are the objects of the appraisal that sets them off. We distinguish each emotion by the kind of appraisal it involves: in fear we appraise or evaluate the stimulus as a threat, in anger as an offense, in joy as a wonderful and satisfying event, and in sadness as some sort of loss. The psychologist Richard Lazarus calls these types of intentional object “core relational themes,” because they define “adaptational encounters” – types of interaction with the environment with important significance for survival and/or well-being – that all human beings face.

For appraisal theorists, musical emotions are a puzzle. When music makes us sad or happy (if it does) there doesn’t seem to be any “adaptational encounter” with the music: nothing has happened to make us happy or sad. I haven’t won a prize or suffered the death of a friend. The music is not the intentional object of my sadness or happiness; it’s not the target of my sadness or what my sadness is about. It’s for this reason that the philosopher of music, Peter Kivy, argues that music simply cannot make us happy or sad, or induce any other of the so-called “garden variety” emotions such as fear, anger, disgust, and so on. Nevertheless, Kivy acknowledges that music does arouse people emotionally. He explains this by imputing it to emotions such as “enthusiasm, or excitement, or ecstasy” which are “directed at the music as its intentional object” (2006, 280). In other words, there is an adaptational encounter with the music after all. In listening to a piece of music with understanding I may appreciate its beauty, and the skillful way the composer has crafted the structure of the piece, and I am emotionally excited by this. Maybe it’s a double fugue as occurs towards the end of Verdi’s Falstaff, or a magisterial passacaglia as in the last movement of Brahms’ Fourth. Why should such things induce excitement? Kivy does not speculate, but perhaps people are so constructed as to be pleased and thrilled when they encounter something beautiful and well made. At any rate, there is probably some evolutionary story to tell about this phenomenon.3 Kivy is surely right that appreciating music in this way does evoke emotions. The trouble with his account is not that it is wrong but that it is incomplete. For according to Kivy these emotions of excitement and ecstasy directed at the music itself are the only emotions that music can arouse, and this seems palpably false.

As a formalist about music, Kivy thinks that the emotions he’s talking about are aroused primarily by formal or structural qualities in music. They are emotions that occur after we have recognized the double canon or the passacaglia and are appreciating how beautifully and skillfully it has been composed. There are other emotions that are also aroused by noticing the form or structure of a piece but which are not so much emotions aroused as a result of noticing important aspects of structure, but rather emotions that are aroused in the process of grasping the structure. I have in mind the kinds of emotional states that Leonard Meyer discusses in Emotion and Meaning in Music. Meyer points out that those who have little or no training in music theory but have listened to a great deal of music can be said to understand a particular piece if they have the “right” emotions at the “right” places in the music. Meyer is thinking primarily of music in the classical and romantic style, roughly speaking from the mid eighteenth to early twentieth century. A paradigm for him is sonata form and the way that sonata form leads the listener to have certain expectations about what will happen when as the music unfolds. Once sonata form has been well established, the composer can write with audience expectations in mind. He can play with these expectations, leading the listener to expect one thing and doing something else, delaying the arrival of an expected resolution, and eventually bringing everything to a conclusion in an unexpected way. Reacting to these events is a bit like reacting to the twists and turns in the intricate plot in a detective story, for example.4 We can be pretty confident that the murderer will be revealed but we don’t know who the murderer is, and how, why, and when he’ll be discovered. Similarly, we can be pretty confident that the tonic will return at the end of a mid-eighteenth century piece in sonata form, but we don’t know how and when. Consequently, as we listen to the piece, especially if we are not trained music theorists, we experience a sequence of emotional states such as surprise, disappointment, bewilderment and relief.

Now, these emotions are triggered by “appraisals” but they are not likely to be deliberate or even conscious appraisals. I can react with emotion to the unusual appearance of an f minor harmony without formulating the proposition that “the introduction of f minor here is very unusual.” Most experimental psychologists think of “cognitive appraisals” as within the capability of at least “lower” animals (especially primates) and hence many emotion theorists believe that the appraisals necessary to emotion don’t have to be deliberate or articulate and are not always propositional in form. Klaus Scherer has written that “many appraisal theorists, rather than limiting the term to a cortically based propositional calculus, adopt a broader view of cognition and assume that appraisal can occur, in more or less complex forms, at several levels of processing” (Scherer et al 370). Hence although a great deal of learning is necessary before a person has the requisite expectations about sonata form, once those expectations are in place, the listener’s reactions can be more or less automatic. Moreover, as Nico Frijda has noted, when something surprising or unexpected occurs it’s probably a good idea for human beings (and other organisms) to react emotionally so as to be able to deal with a potentially threatening situation. Similarly, when things turn out as expected we respond by relaxing our guard. Most likely, listeners’ reactions to what is appraised as unexpected and then to what is appraised as a comforting return of the expected are a by-product of a generally adaptive pattern of behavior.

There are no doubt other ways in which cognitive appraisals of music can arouse emotions in listeners. I have written elsewhere about emotional responses to musical topoi, for example, as when we begin to feel stirred by what we recognize as martial music or we feel solemn and reverent in listening to what is appraised or recognized as a hymn. And of course there are personal associations to music that make people emotional when they recognize a piece as associated with some memorable and important event in their own lives. Nevertheless, even after enumerating all these ways in which appraisals of the music can generate emotions, they don’t seem sufficient to explain the overpowering emotional effects that listeners claim to experience on listening to at least some music. So perhaps the appraisal theory is not sufficient as a general theory of emotion since it can’t entirely explain the emotional power of music. Notably the appraisal theory focuses on the input side of the emotion process, on what initiates that process. Other theories focus more on the output side Maybe we should consider an alternative theory of emotion, one that emphasizes the output side of emotion rather than the input side.

II. The Jamesian Theory.

The main rival to the appraisal theory about the emotions is William James’s theory. As is well-known, James argued that the commonsense view of emotions gets things back to front: “Common sense says, we lose our fortune, are sorry and weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike.” But on James’ view “the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact,” and “our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion” (1065). Hence it is more accurate to say that “we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble” (1066). James gives a three part argument in favor of his theory: first we do in fact respond automatically and instinctively to events in the environment that are important to our survival and/or well-being (i.e., “adaptational encounters”); secondly, these responses are bodily and especially visceral responses which are felt as soon as they occur; and thirdly – the “vital point” of his theory – if we imagine some strong emotion “and then try to abstract from our consciousness of it all feelings of its bodily symptoms, we find we have nothing left behind,” except “a cold and neutral state of intellectual perception (1067).” James has been interpreted in different ways, but if we take him literally here he is saying that the emotion IS the conscious awareness of bodily changes. Without an awareness of bodily changes there will be no emotionality, just “a cold and neutral state of intellectual perception.” It is our feelings of the different bodily reactions characteristic of different emotional states that James identifies with different particular emotions. [James points out that the same bodily responses can occur to not only to simple stimuli that we might be pre-programmed to respond to, but also to more cognitively complex stimuli of the same general type: threats of whatever type elicit a fear responses, offense of whatever type elicit an angry response, losses of whatever type elicit a sad response and so on.]

James takes it as good evidence for his theory that deliberately taking on the typical bodily expression of an emotion is a good recipe for changing the way you feel:

Smooth the brow, brighten the eye, contract the dorsal rather than the ventral aspect of the frame, and speak in a major key, pass the genial compliment, and your heart must be frigid indeed if it do not gradually thaw! (1078)

James’s theory is notoriously a piece of armchair theorizing, but in recent years there has been a great deal of empirical work designed to test his hypothesis. In his recent book, Feelings: The Perception of Self, the psychologist Jim Laird has catalogued a large number of experiments purporting to show that feelings follow and provide information about our bodily states and actions: our feelings are generated by a “process of self-observation and interpretation,” which he calls “self-perception” (9). Laird examines different categories of bodily state, including emotional expressions (facial expressions, vocal expressions), posture, and autonomic arousal, and finds good evidence that emotional feelings follow the deliberate induction of such bodily changes. Examples of experiments cited include the well-known study by Dutton and Aron in which male subjects encountered “an attractive female confederate” after they had crossed two bridges over a river, one “low and wide,” and the other “high, narrow, and shaky” (Laird 82-3). The woman had given all the men her phone number on some pretext. After the experiment, more men who had crossed the scary bridge called her than those who had crossed the “safe” bridge. The idea is that the men on the scary bridge felt aroused by the scary bridge because they were afraid, but they falsely attributed their feelings to how they felt about the woman. Laird says: “When people have been aroused by fear, anger, or physical exercise, they then report being more strongly attracted sexually or romantically” (83). In another ingenious experiment Strack et al. (1988) asked subjects how funny a series of cartoons was. Half of the subjects were asked to hold a pen in their mouth by pursing their lips and the other half to hold it with their teeth. Those who were induced to look angry found the cartoons less amusing than those who had been induced to “smile.”

Laird departs from James in pointing out that we don’t always feel the bodily reactions that occur in emotional states. There are individual differences among people as to how sensitive they are to their own bodily states, and even those who are sensitive don’t always realize how they are reacting in a particular situation. He notes, however, that this point supports James’s basic view that feelings are not the cause of behavior, but “the consequences of behaviors”:5 feelings function as “information about the behaviors that are going on, in relation to the context in which the person is acting” (109). They are not just one more component of an emotion episode.

We might wonder whether what’s induced in the experiments cited by Laird is a genuine emotion or merely an “emotional feeling.” In the Strack et al experiment, there are cognitive and behavioral effects characteristic of a genuine emotion. Finding a cartoon funny seems to indicate that one is amused, not just undergoing an “emotional feeling” of amusement. In the Dutton and Aron experiment, by contrast, it looks more as if generalized autonomic arousal increases the likelihood of genuine emotions being aroused. As in the Schachter and Singer experiment, which is in a similar vein, the agent is aroused, feels himself to be aroused and looks around for an explanation for his state of arousal. In this case, it seems, emotional feelings are aroused rather than emotions proper.6 But of course everything is complicated by the fact that when one feels aroused and then begins to believe that one is aroused by an attractive member of the opposite sex, genuine attraction rapidly follows. And similarly with respect to judgments that one is feeling cheerful or angry.

A third possibility is that what’s aroused is strictly speaking neither an emotion nor an emotional feeling but a mood. The reason why this might seem to be a plausible alternative is that although the feelings in question are feelings of bodily change, they are not initiated by an “appraisal” as emotions typically are. Certainly those who hold the cognitive appraisal theory are likely to think, contra both James and Laird, that these “emotional feelings” cannot be feelings of genuine emotion because the feelings are aroused by awareness of bodily changes and not by an appraisal of some “intentional object.” Laird does not make a sharp distinction between emotion and mood in his book. However, many of his examples are not plausibly analyzed as moods. The subjects in the Dutton and Aron experiment came to have a romantic attachment to somebody; those in the Strack et al experiment came to find cartoons amusing. In both cases the agent interpreted the feeling state as emotional and a specific intentional object appeared to which the feeling state was then attached. All the elements of an emotion were then present; it’s just that the process did not originate in an appraisal of an intentional object. Emotions are malleable: they hook on to whatever in the environment seems appropriate. If I’m autonomically aroused and there’s a handsome dude before me, I assume the feeling is caused by the dude and proceed to act as if it indeed it were. Of course, this does not rule out the possibility that moods can also be generated by interpreting one’s feelings of bodily change as indicative of one’s mood.

There is some neuroscientific support for the self-perception hypothesis. Antonio Damasio has identified specific areas of the brain that monitor the current and ongoing state of the body and found that these areas are active when people “recalled and re-experienced personal life episodes marked by sadness, happiness, anger or fear” (Damasio et al 2000). He identifies the “feeling” of an emotion with a “mapping” by the brain of a pattern of bodily changes that occurs in that emotion. In experiments in which subjects were asked to think about an emotional episode in their past life while being given a PET scan, all the “body-sensing areas” they studied – the cingulate cortex, the somatosensory cortices of insula and SII, the nuclei in the brain stem tegmentum – “showed a statistically significant pattern of activation or deactivation,” indicating that “the mapping of body states” had been modified during these episodes of feeling. (2003, 99-100). As Laird notes, for Damasio, bodily feedback plays an important role in generating feelings, which in turn function as useful data on which to base decisions.

What has all this to do with music? There is a great deal of evidence that music affects its listeners in a bodily way, and if music can directly affect the motor system, posture and gesture, facial expression, and/or action tendencies, then, if James and Laird are right, it should be able to induce emotional feelings of these bodily changes that are interpreted by the agent as emotions. (This is what I have labeled the “Jazzercise effect.”) In their article “Emotional effects of music: production rules” (2001), Scherer and Zentner summarize a number of ways in which music can arouse emotions, among them bodily feedback mechanisms7. They report on studies that seem to show that music listening has an effect on autonomic measures such as heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, finger temperature, and galvanic skin response. For example, one study showed statistically significant differences in cardio-respiratory activity in people listening to music independently identified as sad, happy, calm or excited (Nyklicek et al 1997). Another study purported to show that happy music induced subliminal smiles and sad music subliminal frowns (Scherer and Zentner 2001). Sandra Trehub has shown that when infants listened to their mothers singing, the cortisol in their saliva modulated arousal, i.e. the babies calmed down (Trehub 2003). These kinds of results are supported by self-reports: people claim that music does indeed calm them down, stir them up, and make them happy or sad. As for inducing emotional feelings through inducing behavior, including action tendencies or motor activity, much music is composed with specific behavior patterns in mind, such as marches, lullabies and dance music. Rhythm is presumably particularly important in these activities. Daniel Levitin has noted the massive connectivity between the cerebellum which is “a center of motor control linked to our sense of timing” and emotional brain centers such as the amygdala.

Interestingly, psychologists often simply assume that music can induce moods, since they use music as a “mood-induction procedure.” They have found that music with a happy or sad character has systematically differentiated effects on perception, memory and various cognitive abilities. These results are consistent with Laird’s self-perception theory: they suggest that music affects behavior, action tendencies and motor responses, and the feelings of these responses are interpreted as emotional feelings. Thus, a funeral march such as Purcell’s music for the death of Queen Mary would seem to induce a certain kind of solemn, heavy-footed movement, which in turn can be experienced as a feeling of sadness. Furthermore, if I think I feel sad I may indeed become sad, and the usual cognitive effects of sadness will ensue: I see more sadness in ambiguous faces8; I more readily remember past events in which I was sad9; I more readily recognize words like “sad”;10 and so on. This phenomenon probably extends to feeling states that are not always identified as emotional. Laird points to a number of studies that indicate that “acting as if confident and proud makes people feel confident and proud” (124), although he thinks confidence is not a genuine emotional state (124). Some music does indeed sound “confident and proud,” and such music may well induce a corresponding posture and stance towards the world, which in turn induces confident feelings.
III. Frijda’s Theory.

The third emotion theory I want to discuss is the theory propounded by Nico Frijda in his 1986 book The Emotions. Frijda agrees with the appraisal theorists that emotions appraise the world in terms of the personal significance of the “adaptational encounter.” He agrees with the Jamesians that the situations appraised are felt to affect the agent in a bodily way. But for Frijda the key idea for emotion theory is that emotions do not merely appraise the world and do not merely issue in feelings of bodily change; they also get us ready to deal with the world as so appraised. Emotions are action tendencies and emotional experience “is to a large extent awareness of action tendency” (71). More precisely, emotions are “modes of relational action readiness,” usually in the form of “tendencies to establish, maintain, or disrupt a relationship with the environment,” as in emotions such as anger, fear or love, and sometimes in the form of “mode of relational readiness as such,” as in the case of generalized excitement or apathy (71). Emotional experience is defined as “awareness of some mode of action readiness of a passive and action-control-demanding nature, involving readiness to change or maintain relationships with the environment (or intentional objects generally); which action readiness is experienced as motivated or caused by situations appraised as relevant, urgent, and meaningful with respect to ways of dealing with it; which situations are felt to affect the subject, and affect him bodily” (257). Emotional experience is “primarily a perception: a mode of appearance of the situation:” Emotional experience is “perception of horrible objects, insupportable people, oppressive events” (188), all of which typically require dealing with in some way. In emotional experience we perceive the world as calling for action or action tendencies: in this sense we perceive Gibsonian “affordances” (325).

Now, this theory might seem every bit as difficult to apply to music as the appraisal theory. Music doesn’t seem to be calling for action, except insofar as it is march music calling for marching, or a hymn calling for us to get on our knees, or dance music demanding to be danced to. Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, by contrast, just seems to demand that we listen to it, and if we are in the modern concert hall, that we listen to it without tapping our feet or humming along or engaging in any other overt activity.

In an interesting recent book, The Musical Representation, Charles Nussbaum has argued that on the contrary, actions or action tendencies are elicited all the time as we listen to complex music such as the Eroica, although these action tendencies are typically suppressed in most listening conditions that are prevalent today. Indeed, in order to understand a complex piece of music as it unfolds it is imperative that we enact in imagination the “action plan” of the music. On the basis of the “action plan” of a particular piece of music, listeners construct a musical mental model that represents “the features of the layouts and scenarios” (82) through which the listener in imagination moves. Listening to music with understanding is imagining moving on a route through the virtual space and time of the music.

Nussbaum argues that a musical performance is a what the philosopher Ruth Millikan has called a “pushmi-pullyu” representation: it both indicates the musical plan, “the hierarchical representations11 whose content is the organized musical surface” (99), and at the same time it prescribes the listener to ‘implement’ the plan by making it her own: “certain bodily sets must be adopted, and motor areas of the brain activated” (99). In other words, “the listener must act the music out” by playing or –“more likely” – singing it as well as by moving through its virtual space in imagination and simulating “the virtual entities contained in this space” (99). Listening to a piece of music with understanding should be thought of as “an attempt to grasp a complex plan by trying it out, adopting it and acting on it by way of simulation or in imagination” (214).

Nussbaum makes the striking claim that “all Western tonal art music since 1650, including so-called pure music, is program music” having “extramusical significance” (126) because “the contents of the mental models it motivates are layouts and scenarios in which the listener acts off-line” (126). The listener who is striving with some success to understand how a piece of music is unfolding is constructing a mental model that maps not just various structural relations such as repeats, inversions, modulations and the like, but “scenarios, objects, and events in virtual musical space” (123) that can in turn model so-called “extra-musical content” (126). And these “scenarios, objects, and events” are not merely thought about or observed from afar but actually encountered in imagination. Thus when we say that music goes up and down, leaves home and returns, we are pointing to the way we enact the music’s “action plan” in imagination as we listen. “If the musical plan generates appropriate mental models and puts the listener’s body into appropriate motor states off-line” (140), the musical mental models can then map extra-musical content. For example, a string quartet might exemplify a friendly conversation among four people. The musical conversation is a “scenario” that “incorporates bodily sets and sequenced behaviors” (125) of the four “participants,” such as accosting, replying, disputing, questioning, acceding and so on. The performers attempt to enact this scenario and listeners attempt to simulate their actions or action tendencies as they listen.

Nussbaum borrows Frijda’s idea that emotions are perceptions of Gibsonian affordances. More precisely, an emotion is “a valent perception of an object, situation, or event relating to a core relational theme and accompanied by one or more modes of arousal as well as a change in action readiness” (199). Nussbaum argues that music arouses emotion “by motivating virtual (off-line) actions afforded in musical space” (190).

“Musical affective feelings … arise out of an ongoing attempt to negotiate a musical virtual terrain, to act in accordance with its musical affordances, dealing with surprises, impediments, failures, and successes on the way, and requiring the constant reevaluation of strategy to which emotional response is keyed” (214).

In the string quartet “conversation” the questions and ripostes are not merely heard as angry or comic. The listener hearing an angry-sounding musical riposte will respond empathetically, in imagination responding with the action tendency or “body set” of anger; the listener engaged in imagination in a light-hearted comic interchange will in imagination respond by smiling and relaxing his or her guard, with consequent bodily feelings of relaxation and contentment.

In some ways Nussbaum’s view is reminiscent of Leonard Meyer’s theory of musical understanding. According to Meyer, as we engage with the music we grasp its structure in responding emotionally to surprising, puzzling and satisfying events. However, Nussbaum’s view is different in at least one important respect. A long-standing objection to Meyer’s account is that it assumes that we are always surprised and puzzled by the way a piece of music unfolds even if we have heard it countless times and know exactly what is going to happen. What Nussbaum suggests is that we do not merely listen to the unfolding musical structure; we move through the virtual musical terrain, encountering obstacles, moving freely and smoothly through open stretches, struggling with conflicting tendencies, wondering which way to turn and so on. And we experience the feelings of these action tendencies.

Do we experience emotional feelings or genuine emotions when listening to music? Nussbaum seems to think that usually it is emotional feelings – feelings of action tendencies – that we experience. Sometimes, however what we experience are emotions and emotional feelings that are analogous to the simulated “off-line” emotional reactions that we experience for characters and plot developments in a novel. Listening to a string quartet as a conversation may be like this, as we simulate the angry musical rebuffs or comical musical ripostes by the participants as well as perhaps simulating a concerned bystander. Either way, the listener in imagination implements the action plan of the music and hence gets put into actual bodily states. These bodily states are typically inhibited, since the corresponding actions are merely simulated, but if they weren’t they would be the bodily states that signal a certain state of mind: concerned, angry, amused etc. In short, music can arouse genuine emotions even if the feelings of these emotions are inhibited, and at times, no doubt, in the privacy of our own homes the action tendencies induced will be overtly expressed, as when listening to the swelling triumphal music of Beethoven’s Egmont overture, we find ourselves “conducting” the music with broad triumphal gestures.

Nussbaum’s view has the merit of linking in a new and original way the emotionally expressive character of music to the emotions it arouses in listeners. The expressive character of a musical episode is founded on the responses induced by enacting the musical action plan in imagination. As Nussbaum puts the point, “… the expressive character of the work is founded on mirroring responses” (230). Till Eulenspiegel, for example, is music expressive of a mischievous state of mind. This means that a successful performance of Till Eulenspiegel

enjoins the listener to implement a plan (off-line), which puts him into certain active bodily states whose muscular effects are inhibited, effects that, if not inhibited, would eventuate in the sort of behaviors, including deliberate inhibition of action, that comport with a mischievous state of mind (230).

And of course we might not be so inhibited if we are listening to mischievous music in a situation where we can be more expressive in a bodily way.12

Kendall Walton has argued that in listening to expressive music we imagine of the auditory sensations we experience that they are experiences of our very own sadness or amusement or whatever. Nussbaum’s theory explains how this can happen.

I have myself distinguished between expression and expressiveness in the arts and have suggested that expressiveness can be analyzed in terms of simulation theory. (So has Tom Cochrane in a recent paper.) In my view an artwork that expresses an emotion in an expressive way is one that reveals something of what it is like to be in such an emotional state. In art as in life this often means that the artwork succeeds in evoking a responsive emotion in audiences. Elsewhere I have illustrated the point with respect to dance.

The audience at a work of dance mimics in imagination the bodily movements of the dancers on the stage. Because of this, they can actually feel what the dancers are expressing. Of course the audience is not actually dancing about in the aisles; their own bodily activity is largely suppressed. But their muscles may tense, their blood may race, and they may feel as if they are extending their arms, flexing their legs, and so on even as they are sitting quietly in the theatre. Moreover, because dance evokes bodily responses in the audience, it is peculiarly capable of communicating what it feels like to be proud and resentful or in the throes of young love or stricken with grief or rage.13

What I said about dance is very similar to what Nussbaum claims about music. In listening to music we virtually encounter affordances which call for particular action tendencies which in turn are felt as emotional feelings of various sorts.

IV. Patrik Juslin on How Music Arouses Emotions.

I believe that Nussbaum’s theory goes a long way to explaining why music is experienced as expressing and arousing powerful emotions.14 If we simulate the overcoming of great obstacles to reach a state of transfiguration or in imagination we attempt to rise out of despondency only to succumb once more, these are narratives of human life that if enacted in suitably rich and sensitive ways can be immensely moving just as simulating the tribulations of characters in plays or novels exemplifying such themes can be. Moreover, we must not forget that the other theories of emotion I have examined also explain aspects of the emotional power of music. And of course, as I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, the various mechanisms I have discussed may all be operating at the same time, and the various emotions aroused by these mechanisms may all be present simultaneously.

In conclusion, I would like to compare very briefly the mechanisms I have been examining with those proposed by the psychologist of music, Patrik Juslin, in a recent article in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (2008). At first glance it would seem that there is very little connection between Juslin’s mechanisms and the ones I have enumerated. The six mechanisms that Juslin and his collaborator suggest as mechanisms for the induction of emotion by music are as follows: “(1) brain stem reflexes, (2) evaluative conditioning, (3) emotional contagion, (4) visual imagery, (5) episodic memory, and (6) musical expectancies” (559).

Brain stem reflexes induce emotional reactions “because one or more fundamental acoustical characteristics of the music are taken by the brain stem to signal a potentially important and urgent event.” (564). Here the music is functioning like any other sound to signal something urgent that needs attention paid to it, such as an alarm signal. The listener’s response is an “instinctive” response to something in the environment that we are adapted to find important. It fits the general Jamesian account that in an adaptational encounter an automatic response is triggered which is then felt as fear or some other emotion. While not wishing to deny that music can produce such sounds – sudden loud sounds, abrasive sounds etc. it seems as if music is here not functioning as music but merely as sound. Moreover, it seems to me that this mechanism can explain very little about our emotional responses to music.

Also of limited significance is “emotional contagion” as Juslin understands it. He rightly points out that we can become emotionally aroused “by the voice-like aspects of music via a process in which a neural mechanism responds quickly and automatically to certain stimulus features, which leads us to mimic the perceived emotion internally” (566). Thus “if human speech is perceived as ‘angry’ when it has fast rate, loud intensity, and a harsh timbre, a musical instrument might sound extremely ‘angry’ by virtue of its even higher speed, louder intensity, and harsher timbre” (566). Just as we respond emotionally to the sound of angry voices, so we respond emotionally to the angry sound of the violin. I have always thought that Juslin overstates the analogy between emotionally expressive music and emotionally expressive speech: while such effects are surely real, they do not account for very much about emotional expressivity in music. Moreover, the term “emotional contagion” suggests that we feel the very emotion that the music is expressing, whereas the typical response to angry voices is not usually to feel angry oneself. Nussbaum’s account of course relies on a version of “contagion” theory, but he puts more emphasis on the way that music induces action tendencies that are felt as emotion or emotional feelings.

Like brain stem reflexes, “evaluative conditioning” achieves its effects automatically. It is what happens when a piece of music has been repeatedly paired with some positive or negative event, such as funeral music is paired with funerals. Eventually the music elicits the appropriate emotion whenever it is heard regardless of whether any funeral is actually taking place. The problem with this mechanism is that it is idiosyncratic to each listener, so tells us very little about the music per se. Anything – a house, an armchair, a type of dog – can elicit emotions in this way. There is nothing peculiar to music here.

We can make a similar objection to “episodic memory,” as a mechanism of emotional arousal, i.e., the “process whereby an emotion is induced in a listener because the music evokes a memory of a particular event in the listener’s life.” Again, a house or an armchair may have similar effects. On the other hand, maybe the memory of negotiating certain kinds of “scenario” in life will enhance the kinds of effect that Nussbaum emphasizes. Music that elicits emotions or emotional feelings by getting the listener to enact the “plan” of the music by acting “in accordance with its musical affordances, dealing with surprises, impediments, failures, and successes on the way” (214) may well draw on the listener’s memories of dealing with surprises, impediments, failures and successes in real life, and may carry powerful emotional resonances as a result. It matters not that the particular surprises and impediments in particular people’s lives are different.

“Musical expectancies” are the emotions that Meyer discusses as aroused by music in the process of coming to understand its structure.

Finally and perhaps most interestingly, music is said to arouse emotions via the “visual imagery” which is associated with the music. Here again we might think that what imagery a particular piece of music brings to mind will vary from person to person and will have nothing to do with the music per se. But again it may be that if we enact the musical plan in the way suggested by Nussbaum, certain types of visual imagery do occur with some regularity. Facing obstacles in imagination we might well imagine corresponding obstacles in life or a landscape. Moving freely through the virtual music-scape we may form visual images of wide-open but unthreatening spaces. More important, however, if Nussbaum is right, would be imagining moving in certain ways, thrusting aside obstacles and marching energetically through wide-open spaces. It would be interesting to study empirically whether there are any correlations between what music seems to be expressing and what visual imagery it tends to arouse in (competent) listeners.15
(6700 words, without footnotes)

1 Philosophers are more likely to grumble that psychologists – at least experimental psychologists – treat emotions as short-term episodes maybe lasting only a few seconds, and ignore those long-term emotions that define our lives a whole. Those who emphasize long-term emotions tend to treat emotions as like perceptions: they focus on the way the world appears to the person in the throes of a certain long-term emotion. Nevertheless, even those theories that focus on long-term emotions usually also recognize the role of emotion in setting off physiological changes, feelings, appropriate behavior and so on.

2 I am not claiming that my list of mechanisms of emotional arousal by music is complete. For example, I say nothing about how we may respond emotionally to music hat sounds like a human vocal expression, something that Patrik Juslin in particular has stressed.

3 See Denis Sutton’s recent book on the evolution of the human sense of beauty.

4 Cf Edward T.Cone

5 The philosopher Laura Sizer has independently made a similar point: emotions and feelings have different functions, in that emotions cause behavior and feelings inform us about how we are behaving.

6 Rainer Reisenzein thinks that only emotional intensity is influenced by such feelings. He is surely right that intensity is affected.

7 I also listed similar data in Deeper than Reason, some of it drawn from Scherer and Zentner.

8 Cf. Scherer and Zentner, p. 374. See also Niedenthal 2001.

9 Bower 1981, p. 141.

10 Niedenthal et al (1997) Sloboda and Juslin 2001, p. 84.

11 For Nussbaum these hierarchical representations are given by Lehrdahl and Jackendoff tree structures.

12 I owe this general point to Kathleen Higgins.

13 “Expression and Expressiveness in Art,” Postgraduate Journal of Aesthetics on-line 4 (2007). See e.g. Rizzolatti et al, “Premotor Cortex and the Recognition of Motor Actions,” Cognitive Brain Research 3, pp. 131-141. The discovery of so-called mirror neurons has spawned a wealth of philosophical speculation about emotional contagion and empathy.

14 I have not done justice to the richness and subtlety of Nussbaum’s account in this brief summary. In particular I have said nothing about his argument that music is particularly capable of expressing and arousing religious emotional feelings.

15 Citations are radically incomplete.


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