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William S. Griscom, Stephen E. Palmer; Cross-modal relations between emotional content and preference for harmony. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):390. doi: 10.1167/11.11.390.
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Previous research has shown that individuals differ in the degree to which they prefer harmonious color combinations, as measured by the correlation between ratings of preference and ratings of harmony for figure-ground color pairs (Schloss & Palmer, VSS-2007), Further research shows that this tendency is also correlated with preference for harmony in music and preference for figural goodness in spatial images for Berkeley undergraduates majoring in Psychology, Art, and Music, although specific training in a relevant domain tends to decrease a person's preference for harmony in the domains of training (Griscom & Palmer, VSS-2010). In the present study, we investigated the relationship between preference for harmony and the emotional associations of these stimuli. Participants were asked to rate various stimuli for consistency with the emotions of happy-sad and angry-calm. The stimuli were 56 color pairs, and 14 30-second clips of classical piano music, 35 images of a single dot at one of 35 positions inside a rectangular frame, and 22 Garner-type 9-dot configurations that spanned a wide range of “harmony” ratings. We found that there were strong correlations between ratings of harmony and ratings of positive emotional associations for music and color pairs: e.g., the music that was judged to be harmonious tended strongly to be judged as happy rather than sad and calm rather than angry. The same was also true of positive emotions and ratings preference for music and color pairs. In previous research music and color pairs showed the highest cross-domain correlations in preference for harmony (r = 0.64). These findings suggest that consistent cross-domain preferences for harmony may reflect, in part, a preference for the positive emotional associations evoked by harmonious stimuli.
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