Harmonic organisation conveys both universal and culture-specific cues for emotional expression in music

Citations of this article
Mendeley users who have this article in their library.


Previous research conducted on the cross-cultural perception of music and its emotional content has established that emotions can be communicated across cultures at least on a rudimentary level. Here, we report a cross-cultural study with participants originating from two tribes in northwest Pakistan (Khow and Kalash) and the United Kingdom, with both groups being naïve to the music of the other respective culture. We explored how participants assessed emotional connotations of various Western and non-Western harmonisation styles, and whether cultural familiarity with a harmonic idiom such as major and minor mode would consistently relate to emotion communication. The results indicate that Western concepts of harmony are not relevant for participants unexposed to Western music when other emotional cues (tempo, pitch height, articulation, timbre) are kept relatively constant. At the same time, harmonic style alone has the ability to colour the emotional expression in music if it taps the appropriate cultural connotations. The preference for one harmonisation style over another, including the major-happy/minor-sad distinction, is influenced by culture. Finally, our findings suggest that although differences emerge across different harmonisation styles, acoustic roughness influences the expression of emotion in similar ways across cultures; preference for consonance however seems to be dependent on cultural familiarity.




Athanasopoulos, G., Eerola, T., Lahdelma, I., & Kaliakatsos-Papakostas, M. (2021). Harmonic organisation conveys both universal and culture-specific cues for emotional expression in music. PLoS ONE, 16(1). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0244964

Register to see more suggestions

Mendeley helps you to discover research relevant for your work.

Already have an account?

Save time finding and organizing research with Mendeley

Sign up for free