Cultural differences in the use of acoustic cues for musical emotion experience

Vishal Midya, Jeffrey Valla, Hymavathy Balasubramanian, Avantika Mathur, Nandini Chatterjee Singh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Does music penetrate cultural differences with its ability to evoke emotion? The ragas of Hindustani music are specific sequences of notes that elicit various emotions: happy, romantic, devotion, calm, angry, longing, tension and sad. They can be presented in two modes, alaap and gat, which differ in rhythm, but match in tonality. Participants from Indian and Non-Indian cultures (N = 144 and 112, respectively) rated twenty-four pieces of Hindustani ragas on eight dimensions of emotion, in a free response task. Of the 192 betweengroup comparisons, ratings differed in only 9% of the instances, showing universality across multiple musical emotions. Robust regression analyses and machine learning methods revealed tonality best explained emotion ratings for Indian participants whereas rhythm was the primary predictor in Non-Indian listeners. Our results provide compelling evidence for universality in emotions in the auditory domain in the realm of musical emotion, driven by distinct acoustic features that depend on listeners' cultural backgrounds.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0222380
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2019
Externally publishedYes


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