The feeling of beauty in music: Relaxing and not confusing

(1) Fulton Science Academy Private School, Alpharetta, Georgia, (2) Saratoga High School, Saratoga, California, (3) University of Delhi, Delhi, India, (4) Albany Academy for Girls, Albany, New York, (5) Conway High School, Conway, Arkansas, (6) The Bishop Strachan School, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, (7) Department of Psychology, Bethel College, North Newton, Kansas
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Although people throughout the world seek opportunities to participate in music, how and why they experience beauty in music is not well understood. To explore this fundamental aesthetic response, we measured numerous emotional responses to diverse musical excerpts to investigate their intercorrelations. We examined the following hypotheses: 1) that liking or the feeling of beauty (hereafter simply “the feeling of beauty”) is positively predicted by other prototypical aesthetic emotions (e.g., awe or the feeling of being moved); 2) that pleasing emotions (e.g., joy) are also positive predictors; and 3) that negative emotions (e.g., boredom or anger) are negatively correlated with the feeling of beauty. We also hypothesized that the epistemic or knowledge emotions (e.g., interest) are not predictors of prototypical aesthetic emotions. Participants listened to 13 brief musical excerpts. Immediately after listening to each excerpt, the participant rated it using the 42-item Aesthetic Emotions Scale (AESTHEMOS). After summing within related pairs of items to find scores for the 21 subscales, we calculated the means across participants for each song. We found that the means for the feeling of beauty have 1) strong positive correlations with the means of other prototypical aesthetic emotions, 2) positive correlations with some pleasing emotions (notably relaxation), 3) negative correlations with most negative emotions (notably confusion; exception: positive correlation with sadness), and 4) low correlations to epistemic emotions except for a strong negative correlation with surprise. These findings indicate a highly nuanced emotional experience of beauty in music that includes positive, negative, and knowledge-related feelings.

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