Do Visual Cues Intensify the Emotional Responses Evoked by Musical Performance? A Psychophysiological Investigation

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Previous research has shown that—compared with audio-only presentations—the audiovisual presentation of a musical performance consistently enhances observers’ appreciation. Furthermore, it has been hypothesized that observation of a musical performance through multiple channels—auditory and visual—may result in a heightened emotional response due to the broader range of actions and cues available (Livingstone & Thompson, 2009). In this study, we set out to investigate how the mode of presentation—audio-only (AO), video-only (VO), and audiovisual (AV)—affects participants’ emotional responses to a musical performance. Nineteen adults took part in an experiment in which they were presented with AO, VO, and AV versions of a recorded piano performance. Their emotional responses to the stimuli were measured using self-report combined with psychophysiological indices of experienced emotions (skin conductance and heart rate). In contrast to the predictions arising from previous work, skin conductance responses indicated that emotional arousal was highest in the audio-only presentation mode, compared with both audiovisual and video-only presentation modes. Self-reports of felt emotions did not reveal any significant differences between the AV and AO presentation modes, although both were rated as eliciting more intense emotional responses than the VO mode, and the AO presentation mode elicited more pleasant emotional responses than the VO mode. These findings do not support the view that audiovisual presentations would increase the appreciation of a musical performance as compared with audio-only presentations. Potential explanations for these findings are discussed.

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