July 2013
Volume 13, Issue 9
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   July 2013
Music-Color Associations to Simple Melodies in Synesthetes and Non-synesthetes
Author Affiliations
  • Thomas Langlois
    University of California, Berkeley
  • Karen Schloss
    University of California, Berkeley
  • Stephen Palmer
    University of California, Berkeley
Journal of Vision July 2013, Vol.13, 1325. doi:https://doi.org/10.1167/13.9.1325
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      Thomas Langlois, Karen Schloss, Stephen Palmer; Music-Color Associations to Simple Melodies in Synesthetes and Non-synesthetes. Journal of Vision 2013;13(9):1325. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/13.9.1325.

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

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Previous research on cross-modal music-to-color associations for classical orchestral music revealed systematic mappings in non-synesthetes (Palmer, Schloss, Xu, & Prado-León, under review). There was also strong evidence that emotion mediates these associations, (e.g., happy colors went with happy music). We investigated whether timbre-color synesthetes have similar cross-modal associations between dimensions of music and color for simple, single-line melodies by Mozart, and whether emotion mediates these associations. Synesthetes picked the three colors (from 37) that were most similar (and later least similar) to their synesthetic color experiences while listening to 32 single-line melodies that varied in tonality (major/minor), tempo (slow/fast), note-density (sparse/dense), register (high/low), and timbre (piano/cello). Non-synesthetes picked the three colors (from the same 37) that "went best" (or "went worst") with the same 32 melodies. Like non-synesthetes’s music-color associations, synesthetes experienced lighter, yellower, and more saturated colors when listening to melodies in the major mode, and darker, bluer, and less saturated colors when listening to melodies in the minor mode. Synesthetes also experienced redder colors when listening to melodies played on the cello, and bluer colors when listening to melodies played on the piano. Both groups also rated each melody and color along six emotional dimensions (happy/sad, angry/not-angry, agitated/calm, active/passive, strong/weak, and harmonious/disharmonious). Synesthetes’ cross-modal associations were mediated by emotion to some degree, because some correlations between corresponding emotional ratings of the music and the colors they experienced were reliable (e.g., .58 for happy/sad). However, they were substantially lower than analogous correlations for non-synesthetes (e.g., .92 for happy/sad) and for the same synesthetes’ explicit judgments of the colors that were most/least emotionally compatible with the music (e.g., .81 for happy/sad). Although emotion (particularly happy-sad) plays some role in determining the color experiences synesthetes have while listening to simple melodies, other sensory-perceptual features related to timbre are also important.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2013


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