Cross-Modal Priming of Music Concepts: On the Metaphorical Nature of Musical Meaning




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Cross-modal correspondence is a cognitive phenomenon in which the perception of one dimension influences or coincides with the perception of another dimension. Some cases of cross-modal correspondence are thought to occur at the semantic/conceptual level of analysis. The present work tested the hypothesis that cross-modal correspondence occurs when there is a metaphorical relation between the interacting dimensions. In Experiments 1 and 2, participants listened to brief tones or chords while viewing a display that varied in color, and they provided subjective ratings of both auditory and visual brightness for the stimuli in each trial. In Experiment 3, participants underwent a mood induction procedure that temporarily increased their happiness or sadness, and then they judged the brightness of tones and chords. Using the terminology of conceptual metaphor theory, the target domains of interest were musical timbre and harmony, and the source domains were visual brightness (Experiments 1 and 2) and mood valence (Experiment 3). Experiment 1 found that participants rated tones as brighter in timbre and chords as brighter in harmony when viewing brighter (higher luminance) colors. An auditory-to-visual priming effect was also observed, but to a lesser extent than visual-to-auditory priming. Musically untrained participants were more influenced by cross-modal priming than were those with music training. Experiment 2 replicated the findings of Experiment 1 in the context of a pitch comparison task involving flat/sharp judgments. Experiment 3 found limited evidence that participants perceived tones and chords as brighter when their mood was happier and darker when sadder. These findings suggest that semantic networks have metaphoric structure, with activation spreading to metaphorically related concepts, which influences perception of the metaphorically related dimensions. Metaphoric connections are asymmetric, with source-to-target mappings weighted more heavily than target-to-source mappings. Expertise in the target domain might reduce the strength of metaphoric connections by establishing stronger literal connections within the target domain.



Perception—Testing, Cognition—Testing, Metaphor, Semantics—Network analysis, Grounded theory, Cognitive neuroscience


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