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The Production and Perception of Emotionally Expressive Walking Sounds: Similarities between Musical Performance and Everyday Motor Activity

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Publication details

JournalPLoS ONE
DatePublished - 31 Dec 2014
Issue number12
Pages (from-to)e115587
Original languageEnglish


Several studies have investigated the encoding and perception of emotional expressivity in music performance. A relevant question concerns how the ability to communicate emotions in music performance is acquired. In accordance with recent theories on the embodiment of emotion, we suggest here that both the expression and recognition of emotion in music might at least in part rely on knowledge about the sounds of expressive body movements. We test this hypothesis by drawing parallels between musical expression of emotions and expression of emotions in sounds associated with a non-musical motor activity: walking. In a combined production-perception design, two experiments were conducted, and expressive acoustical features were compared across modalities. An initial performance experiment tested for similar feature use in walking sounds and music performance, and revealed that strong similarities exist. Features related to sound intensity, tempo and tempo regularity were identified as been used similarly in both domains. Participants in a subsequent perception experiment were able to recognize both non-emotional and emotional properties of the sound-generating walkers. An analysis of the acoustical correlates of behavioral data revealed that variations in sound intensity, tempo, and tempo regularity were likely used to recognize expressed emotions. Taken together, these results lend support the motor origin hypothesis for the musical expression of emotions.

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