“There was also a significant, yet smaller, negative relationship between pitch level and arousal, moderated by gender: Compared to higher pitch, lower pitch was associated with higher arousal in men only.”
Music and felt emotions: How systematic pitch level variations affect the experience of pleasantness and arousal
Institut universitaire romand de Santé au Travail (Institute for Work and Health), University of Lausanne and University of Geneva, Lausanne, Switzerland
Patrick Gomez, Institute for Work and Health, Rue du Bugnon 21, Lausanne 1011, Switzerland. Email: email@example.com
Pitch is a fundamental musical factor; however, findings about its contribution to the elicitation of emotions are contradictory. The purpose of this work was to assess the effect of systematic pitch variations on self-reports of felt valence and arousal. In a within-subject design, 49 subjects listened to four 1-minute classical piano excerpts, each presented at three different pitch levels (one octave lower than the original version, the original version and one octave higher than the original version). Compared to excerpts both without octave modification and in the +1 octave variant, pleasantness of excerpts in the -1 octave variant was significantly lower. This main effect was stronger for women than men and, importantly, was modulated by the specific characteristics of the stimuli. There was also a significant, yet smaller, negative relationship between pitch level and arousal, moderated by gender: Compared to higher pitch, lower pitch was associated with higher arousal in men only. Regarding the complex outcomes of this study, future studies should investigate to which extent our findings can be generalized to other musical works. The ultimate goal might be to demonstrate how pitch level interacts with other musical features and listeners’ characteristics in eliciting diverse affective experiences.