On the Difference Between Perceived and Felt Emotions in Music

In this project we study the physiological and neuronal correlates of perceived musical expression and the feelings sparked by music listening. The assumption that the physiological and affective phenomena are congruent has been a cornerstone of both musical pedagogy and music-aesthetic discourse since the inception of that discourse in the writings of Plato and Aristotle. The traditional premise was that music had purely positive social and mental effects, since, it was believed, the expression of an emotion could here be translated into a felt emotion without loss, so that emotional bearing and social character could be developed through frequent repetition.

With the emergence of aesthetics as a philosophical discipline sui generis, the possible dissociation of the two phenomena was repeatedly described and theorized about. Research in music psychology has, however, only recently begun to examine the difference between musical “expression” and subjective “impression” empirically as well. Alf Gabrielson (2002) developed a model of the relationship at work here, allowing a distinction to be drawn between an external and an internal locus in music listening: the former is the expression ascribed to a piece of music; the latter the feeling that it really sparks in the listener. The relationship can be positive when the two loci are in accord and negative when this is not the case. Subsequent studies examined the manifestation of all described relationships (see for example Evans & Schubert 2008).

Carrying this research forward, our project is aimed at analyzing the physiological markers and neural correlates of both phenomena with peripheral-physiological measurements and imaging procedures. The results may also constitute a basic contribution to discussion of the question of whether music is actually capable of evoking genuine emotions (the claim of emotivistic theory); or whether, to the contrary, music listening is marked not by utilitarian but rather aesthetic emotions (the claim of cognitivistic theory). We intend to explore these two basic forms of reception in depth, perhaps also addressing the question of why they were conflated for such a long time. At the same time, this work will touch on the central question in aesthetics of what might distinguish reactions to an everyday phenomenon from those to its aesthetic counterpart.