Music evokes 13 key emotions in people

San Francisco: Music really is a universal language and evokes 13 overarching feelings in people, say researchers who have mapped a largest array of emotions that are felt worldwide.

So the 'Star-Spangled Banner' number stirs pride, Ed Sheeran's 'The Shape of You' sparks joy and and 'ooh la la! by George Michael best sums up the seductive power.

The 13 key emotions are: Amusement, joy, eroticism, beauty, relaxation, sadness, dreaminess, triumph, anxiety, scariness, annoyance, defiance, and feeling pumped up.

While Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' made people feel energized, The Clash's 'Rock the Casbah' pumped them up and Al Green's 'Let's Stay Together' evoked sensuality.

"Imagine organising a massively eclectic music library by emotion and capturing the combination of feelings associated with each track. That's essentially what our study has done," said study lead author Alan Cowen, a UC Berkeley doctoral student in neuroscience.

To reach this conclusion, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have surveyed more than 2,500 people in the US and China about their emotional responses to thousands of songs from genres including rock, folk, jazz, classical, marching band, experimental and heavy metal. Cowen translated the data into an interactive audio map, where visitors can move their cursors to listen to any of thousands of music snippets to find out, among other things, if their emotional reactions match how people from different cultures respond to the music. While both US and Chinese study participants identified similar emotions – such as feeling fear hearing the "Jaws" movie score – they differed on whether those emotions made them feel good or bad.

"People from different cultures can agree that a song is angry, but can differ on whether that feeling is positive or negative," said Cowen.

Furthermore, across cultures, study participants mostly agreed on general emotional characterizations of musical sounds, such as angry, joyful and annoying. But their opinions varied on the level of "arousal," which refers in the study to the degree of calmness or stimulation evoked by a piece of music.

"We have rigorously documented the largest array of emotions that are universally felt through the language of music," said study senior author Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The participants for the study were recruited via Amazon Mechanical Turk's (MTurk) crowdsourcing platform.

The volunteers scanned thousands of videos on YouTube for music evoking a variety of emotions. From those, the researchers built a collection of audio clips to use in their experiments.

Using statistical analyses, the researchers arrived at 13 overall categories of experience that were preserved across cultures and found to correspond to specific feelings, such as being "depressing" or "dreamy."

Heavy metal was widely viewed as defiant and, just as its composer intended, the shower scene score from the movie "Psycho" triggered fear.

"Music is a universal language, but we don't always pay enough attention to what it's saying and how it's being understood," Cowen noted.

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