Experiencing musical beauty: emotional subtypes and their physiological and musico-acoustic correlates

Omigie, Diana; Frieler, Klaus; Bär, Christian; Muralikrishnan, R.; Wald-Fuhrmann, Melanie and Fischinger, Timo. 2021. Experiencing musical beauty: emotional subtypes and their physiological and musico-acoustic correlates. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 15(2), pp. 197-215. ISSN 1931-3896 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

A listener’s aesthetic engagement with a musical piece often reaches peaks in response to passages experienced as especially beautiful. The present study examined the extent to which responses to such self-identified beautiful passages (BPs), in self-selected music, may be distinguishable in terms of their affective qualities. In an online survey, participants indicated pieces in which they considered specific passages to be outstandingly beautiful. In the lab, they listened to these pieces while physiological recordings were taken. Afterwards, they provided ratings on their experience of the BPs, where items targeted emotion response, underlying engagement mechanisms, and aesthetic evaluation. Cluster-analyses based on emotion ratings suggested three BP subtypes that we labelled low-Tension-low-Energy (LTLE), low-Tension-high-Energy (LTHE) and high-Tension-high-Energy (HTHE) BPs. LTHE and HTHE BPs induced greater interest and were more liked than LTLE BPs. Further, LTHE and HTHE clusters were associated with increases in skin-conductance, in accordance with the higher arousal reported for these BPs, while LTLE BPs resulted in the increases in smiling and respiration-rate previously associated with processing fluency and positive valence. LTLE BPs were also shown to be lower in tempo and polyphony than the other BP types. Finally, while both HTHE and LTHE BPs were associated with changes in dynamics, they nevertheless also showed distinct patterns whereby HTHE BPs were associated with increases in pitch register and LTHE BPs, with reductions in harmonic ambiguity. Thus, in line with our assumption that there is more than one kind of experience of musical beauty, our study reveals three distinct subtypes, distinguishable on a range of facets.

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©American Psychological Association, [2019]
"This article may not exactly replicate the authoritative document published in the APA journal. It is not the copy of record."


beautiful passages, music, emotion, physiology, aesthetic judgments

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Psychology > Centre for Cognition, Computation and Culture (CCCC)


22 June 2019Accepted
May 2021Published

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Date Deposited:

02 Jul 2019 08:39

Last Modified:

09 Jun 2021 16:30

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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