Prokofiev was (almost) right: A cross-cultural investigation of auditory-conceptual associations in Peter and the Wolf

Nicola Di Stefano, Alessandro Ansani, Andrea Schiavio, Charles Spence

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Over recent decades, studies investigating cross-modal correspondences have documented the existence of a wide range of consistent cross-modal associations between simple auditory and visual stimuli or dimensions (e.g., pitch-lightness). Far fewer studies have investigated the association between complex and realistic auditory stimuli and visually presented concepts (e.g., musical excerpts-animals). Surprisingly, however, there is little evidence concerning the extent to which these associations are shared across cultures. To address this gap in the literature, two experiments using a set of stimuli based on Prokofiev's symphonic fairy tale Peter and the Wolf are reported. In Experiment 1, 293 participants from several countries and with very different language backgrounds rated the association between the musical excerpts, images and words representing the story's characters (namely, bird, duck, wolf, cat, and grandfather). The results revealed that participants tended to consistently associate the wolf and the bird with the corresponding musical excerpt, while the stimuli of other characters were not consistently matched across participants. Remarkably, neither the participants' cultural background, nor their musical expertise affected the ratings. In Experiment 2, 104 participants were invited to rate each stimulus on eight emotional features. The results revealed that the emotional profiles associated with the music and with the concept of the wolf and the bird were perceived as more consistent between observers than the emotional profiles associated with the music and the concept of the duck, the cat, and the grandpa. Taken together, these findings therefore suggest that certain auditory-conceptual associations are perceived consistently across cultures and may be mediated by emotional associations.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalPsychonomic bulletin & review
Early online date24 Jan 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Jan 2024

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© 2023. The Author(s).

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