Saturday, July 10, 2004

The Social Psychology of Music

I've been reading some books this summer in preparation for a class I will be offering for the first time next spring: The Psychology of Music. My dissertation is on psychoacoustics, and I have taken plenty of courses on the perception and cognition of music. But I have never taught it as a course, so I'm trying to be prepared. I especially want to bone up on the social and developmental psychologies of music, so I can give a more balanced presentation of the different areas of research in music psychology.

The Social Psychology of Music, edited by David Hargreaves and Adrian North, provides a good introduction to the field. The editors organize the chapters around a theory by Doise that divides up social psychology into four levels: the intraindividual level(how people comprehend their social environments), the interindividual and situational level (processes between members in given situations), the social-positional level (differences between different social groups), and the ideological level (cultural systems that can affect individual responses). From these levels the editors came up with six topic areas: individual differences, social groups and situations, social and cultural influences, developmental issues, musicianship, and applications. The first three follow Doise's categories exactly, with the third and fourth levels combined. The other three sections are more specific, focusing on specific social groups (adolescents or musicians) and looking at practical applications.

In the first section, Anthony Kemp examines "Individual differences in musical behaviour" and Susan O'Neill explores the influence of "Gender and music." Kemp has written a more detailed book, The Musical Temperament: Psychology and Personality of Musicians, which I plan to read later this summer. It is an interesting look at what personality traits are common among musicians, and why certain people are driven to create music. Kemp provides a handy review of personality theories, and explains clearly why he picks a specific theory to base his research on. I'll dive into this topic more when I review Kemp's book. O'Neill reviews research on gender and music, with a particular focus on why certain instruments are associated as masculine or feminine, after determining that the trumpet is indeed thought of as a man's instrument (no shock to my wife, especially after she played principal trumpet in a Mexican orchestra, surrounded by muy machismo), and the flute is feminine (tell James Galway that, I dare ya!). The research results are not surprising, though the resistance to change of social stereotypes is depressing. I found many of the interpretations and conclusions to be unsatisfying, either for being blindingly obvious or wishy-washy to the extreme. But O'Neill is not alone in this. I found most of the review articles to be reluctant to claim any significant conclusions. Is it a problem with the research mechanisms, or are they uncertain about the theoretical frameworks?

The second section looked at "Music and social influence" by Crozier (see my earlier comments about this article), and "Experimental aesthetics and everyday music listening" by the editors. Crozier describes the shocking research finding that musical preferences are influenced by the reactions of one's peers. More interesting is the second article, which describes an experiment by Vladimir Kone˘cni. The subjects were insulted by a supposed fellow subject (really a mole), highly arousing the subjects. The subjects were then asked to pick music to listen to. The short melodies were either complex or simple. The insulted subjects prefered simple music, fitting the inverted U relationship between Liking and Arousal that had been asserted earlier by Berlyne. Because the insulted subjects were already highly aroused, they wanted music that would not cause more stimulation, but rather would reduce their amount of arousal. Now that is an experiment: insulting your participants, and getting away with it! (Sorry, Evil Theory Doctor moment there.)

In Social and Cultural Influences, Dean Keith Simonton looks at compositional creativity, using the rather controversial method of historiometric analysis. I'll just say this: Simonton's definition of melodic originality is very naive, comparing the first six notes of melodies ranging from the Renaissance to the 20th century. A mean was created and all individual melodies and composers compared to this, but as these melodies span three different musical languages -- modal, tonal, and post-tonal, with the latter really as a whole slew of different languages -- and countless genres, the mean becomes meaningless. Less controversial is Andrew Gregory's summary of ethnomusicology, and Philip Rusell's review of differences in musical taste of different social groups. I do wonder about the inclusion of ethnomusicology in a psychology journal. Where is the division between social psychology and sociology?

Developmental Issues include studies on musical preferences of adolescents and the very interesting "Environmental factors in the development of musical performance skill over the life span" by Jane Davidson, Michael Howe, and John Sloboda. They measure over the life span by interviewing musicians and non-musicians at various stages, including people who have quit music or view it as a hobby rather than a vocation. There are many results and conclusions in this review, and one great anecdote that I have to share: "Evidently, among the Anang Ibibo [a Nigerian tribe] it is believed that everyone is capable of very high levels of musical expertise." (p. 188) An ethnomusicologist studying this tribe could not find a non-musical person, and the language had no concept for tone-deafness or other lack of skill. Because the society had the attitude that everyone could perform music and dance, everyone could. What are your attitudes?

Jane Davidson goes solo (in more than one way) with the next article, "The social in musical performance." She looks at interactions among musicians and between musicians and audiences, finishing with a story about her own performance as a soloist in Britten's War Requiem. It is an interesting article, though the research is very preliminary. The other article in the Musicianship section is on performance anxiety, and is very well done. Glenn Wilson starts with the symptoms and ends with the various "cures," as many discussions of performance anxiety do. But in the middle, he offers psychological theories for the cause of anxiety, including some clinical studies. The inverted U of arousal and liking comes back, suggesting that performers play best when they are somewhat aroused but not when they are too aroused. A very interesting study shows that successful performers peak in anxiety before the actual performance, whereas ruined performances usually are accompanied by peaks in anxiety during the performance.

Real World Applications looks at music therapy, advertising and Musak, and music education. The review of music therapy is good, though somewhat out of date, and the music education article overstates the benefit of educating music teachers about theories of social interaction.

I will definitely use portions of this book in my class, and recommend it to anyone interested in this area, as a good starting point. Next up, Musical Origins!

1 comment:

Miles W said...

Hi Scott,
I really enjoyed reading your article and have sought out Hargreaves book! I am about to start a course in the psychology of music and have to write an essay on 'the application of psychological principles to explain music' OR 'the use of musical phenomenon to enhance psychological theory'.
I was just wondering if you could give me any ideas to look into?