TitleHarmonic Expectation, Selective Attention, and Affect in Music
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsLoui, P, Wessel, D
Conference NameNeuroscience and Music Conference
Conference LocationLeipzig, Germany

Behavioral and neuroimaging studies provide converging evidence for harmonic expectation in the human brain. Few studies, however, have addressed the questions of a) what harmonies humans expect given specific melodies, and b) how harmonic expectation relates to the experience of affect in music. The present study addresses these two questions. The first experiment uses a reaction time paradigm in which subjects heard series of five-chord progressions. As each chord played, subjects responded as to whether the melodic pitch (defined as the highest pitch of each chord) went up, down, or stayed constant compared to the melodic pitch before it. Three types of chord progressions accompanied each melody: highly expected (I- I6-IV-V-I), slightly unexpected (I-I6-N6-V-I), and highly unexpected (I-I6-IV-V-N6). Subjects responses were analyzed for reaction time and accuracy. For musically trained subjects, RT increased as unexpectedness increased. This relationship was not observed in nonmusicians, who were slower to respond overall but similar in RT across all chords. Accuracy was significantly above chance but similar across conditions. A second experiment investigated effects of harmonic expectation on affect. Subjects rated the pleasantness of the chord progressions on a four-point scale. On average, more expected chords resulted in higher pleasantness ratings. Ratings did not vary significantly between musically trained and untrained subjects. Results suggest that harmonic expectation facilitated melodic perception in musically trained subjects, whereas nonmusicians were unaffected by harmony. The second experiment showed that all subjects could distinguish between degrees of harmonic violations while attending holistically to chord progressions in the pleasantness ratings task. The above study introduces a new reaction time paradigm to study interactive effects of different musical elements on psychological expectation. As a follow-up to the above study, we plan to train subjects to become sensitive towards an artificially constructed set of music- theoretical rules. Subsequently we plan to obtain pleasantness ratings as well as reaction time and electrophysiological data in order to assess musically evoked emotional arousal and expectation in the human brain.