If you've ever doubted the power of music, then here's some scientific evidence that will satisfy the disbeliever in you - a study on native African people has revealed they, without any prior exposeure to Western music, can still pick out happy, sad, and fearful emotions from its mysterious language!
The researchers said that their findings indicated that the expression of those three basic emotions in music could be universally recognized
"These findings could explain why Western music has been so successful in global music distribution, even in music cultures that do not as strongly emphasize the role of emotional expression in their music," said Thomas Fritz of the Max-Planck-Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences.
The basic feature in Western music is the expression of emotions, but in other musical traditions music is often appreciated for other qualities, such as group coordination in rituals.
The researchers set out to find out whether people, who had no prior exposure to Western music, could appreciate its emotional aspects.
For the study, they enlisted members of the Mafa, one of about 250 ethnic groups in Cameroon.
Fritz travelled to the extreme north of the Mandara mountain ranges, where they live, with a laptop and sun collector to supply electricity in his backpack.
The studies showed that both Western and Mafa listeners, who had never before heard Western music, could recognize emotional expressions of happiness, sadness, and fear in the music more often than would be expected by chance.
However, it was found that the Mafa showed considerable variability in their performance, with two of twenty-one study participants performing at chance level.
Both groups relied on similar characteristics of music to make those calls: both Mafas and Westerners relied on temporal cues and on mode for their judgment of emotional expressions, although this pattern was more marked in Western listeners.
The researchers manipulated the music and found that both Western listeners and African listeners found original music more pleasant than altered versions.
The preference could probably be due to the increased sensory dissonance of the manipulated tunes.
"In conclusion, both Mafa and Western listeners showed an ability to recognize the three basic emotional expressions tested in this study from Western music above chance level. This indicates that these emotional expressions conveyed by the Western musical excerpts can be universally recognized, similar to the largely universal recognition of human emotional facial expression and emotional prosody," wrote the researchers.
The study has been published online in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication.