The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Music and movement share a dynamic structure that supports universal expression of emotion

Faculty Scholarship
November 07, 2012
Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences

Executive Summary

PNAS 110(1): 70-75

Author(s): Beau Sievers, Larry Polansky, Michael Casey, and Thalia Wheately

Music moves us. Its kinetic power is the foundation of human behaviors as diverse as dance, romance, lullabies, and the military march. Despite its significance, the music-movement relationship is poorly understood. We present an empirical method for testing whether music and movement share a common structure that affords equivalent and universal emotional expressions. Our method uses a computer program that can generate matching examples of music and movement from a single set of features: rate, jitter (regularity of rate), direction,step size, and dissonance/visualspikiness. We applied our method in two experiments, one in the United States and another in an isolated tribal village in Cambodia. These experiments revealed three things: (each emotion was represented by a unique combination of features, each combination expressed the same emotion both music and movement, and this common structure between music and movement was evident within and across cultures


Rockefeller Center Faculty Grant Proposal: "Cross-modal emotional dynamics"

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences