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Color, Music, and Emotion

Google Tech Talk (more info below) June 30, 2011 Presented by Stephen E. Palmer Professor of the Graduate School Psychology & Cognitive Science University of California, Berkeley ABSTRACT Arnheim (1986) once speculated that different aesthetic domains (e.g., color and music) might be related to each other through common emotional associations. We investigated this hypothesis by having participants pick from among an array of 37 colors the five colors that went best (and later the five that went worst) with each of a set of 18 brief samples of classical orchestral music that varied in composer (Bach/Mozart/Brahms), tempo (slow/medium/fast), and mode (major/minor). They also rated each musical selection and each color for its emotional associations (happy-sad, lively-dreary, strong-weak, angry-calm). Systematic mappings were found between the dimensions of color and music: faster music and major mode were associated with lighter, more saturated, yellower colors, whereas slower music and minor mode were associated with darker, desaturated, bluer colors. More precisely controlled musical stimuli (single-line melodies by Mozart on a synthesized piano) produced more refined relations between the music and the colors chosen to go with them. These color-music mappings are mediated by common emotional associations, because the correlation between emotional ratings of the musical selections and emotional ratings of the colors chosen to go with them were extremely high (.90 to .98) for all emotional dimensions studied (e.g., people picked happy colors to go with happy music and dreary colors to go with dreary music). The mediating role of emotion was established by obtaining analogous effects when people picked the colors that went best (and worst) with faces and body poses that expressed emotions (happy-sad and angry-calm). Similarly high correlations were obtained when the emotional ratings of the faces/gestures were compared with corresponding emotional ratings of the colors chosen to go with them. Further findings identify a stable aesthetic difference between people in terms of their level of "preference for harmony" across the domains of color combinations, musical compositions, shape preferences, and spatial composition within a rectangular frame.
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