July 2013
Volume 13, Issue 9
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   July 2013
Music-Color Associations from Bach to the Blues: Emotional Mediation in Synesthetes and Non-synesthetes
Author Affiliations
  • Kelly Whiteford
    Department of Psychology
  • Karen Schloss
    Department of Psychology
  • Stephen Palmer
    Department of Psychology
Journal of Vision July 2013, Vol.13, 1321. doi:https://doi.org/10.1167/13.9.1321
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      Kelly Whiteford, Karen Schloss, Stephen Palmer; Music-Color Associations from Bach to the Blues: Emotional Mediation in Synesthetes and Non-synesthetes. Journal of Vision 2013;13(9):1321. https://doi.org/10.1167/13.9.1321.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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When participants are asked to make associations from classical orchestral music to colors, they choose colors that fit the emotional content of the music: e.g., "happy" colors go with "happy" music and "angry" colors with "angry" music (Palmer, Schloss, Xu & Prado-Leon, in review). Such findings support an emotional mediation hypothesis: cross-modal associations between two perceptually distinct domains can be mediated by shared emotional content. Experiment 1 tested whether emotions also mediate music-color associations with a larger sample of 34 diverse musical genres, including classical, blues, salsa, heavy metal, and hiphop. While listening to each selection, participants picked the three most consistent (and the three least consistent) among 37 colors. Later, they also rated the emotional content of each color and each musical selection on 10 bipolar dimensions: appealing-disgusting, calm-agitated, complex-simple, happy-sad, harmonious-disharmonious, loud-quiet, spicy-bland, warm-cool, whimsical-serious, and liked-disliked. Consistent with emotional mediation, participants reliably matched colors with music having similar emotional content for 9 of the 10 dimensions, with correlations ranging from .91 for calm-agitated to .53 for appealing-disgusting. Preference (liked-disliked) was the only dimension that was unrelated to color choices. Experiment 2 tested whether emotion also mediates the colors experienced by synesthetes, who were instructed to pick the three colors that were most (and least) similar to the colors they experienced while listening to a subset of 18 of the same 34 musical selections. Shared emotional content also influences the relation between the colors experienced to music for synesthetes (e.g., r=.64 for happy-sad). However, these correlations were systematically lower than those for non-synesthetes choosing best/worst color associations (.79 for happy-sad) and also lower than for synesthetes choosing colors that best fit the emotional content of the music (.84 for happy-sad). These and other differences suggest that music-color synesthesia is influenced by both emotion and other sensory-perceptual factors.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2013


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