Music Influences Mood and Visual Perception

The perception of what we see depends on various factors, including contextual information, expectations, emotions and memory. Recently, a study was conducted in the Netherlands to examine the effects of music and the consequent mood on visual perception. Participants were shown images full of dots in which happy or sad faces were embedded and could be identified only with difficulty. It was observed that when participants listened to music that made them happy, they recognized more happy faces than when they listened to music that made them sad. “In other words, the music you are listening to might directly alter the way you perceive the world,” according to the researchers.

Once visual signals reach the brain, analysis of these signals depends on factors such as memory, expectation, mood, previous knowledge, etc. For example, if a person is in a meadow, an object with a black-and-white pattern will be perceived as a cow. It was shown in a recent study that when a black-and-white image of a banana was shown to participants, many perceived a yellowish tinge in the picture. The researchers of the present study examined how mood affects visual perception. For altering the mood of participants, they made participants listen to songs that made them either happy or sad.

* The study included 43 healthy students. They each did two sets of 100 trials of the mood-detection task. They did this under three conditions – without music, with sad music, and with happy music, where the music had been earlier chosen and brought by the participants themselves.
* For each music condition, the mood of each participant was assessed using the Self Assessment Manakin technique.
* With each music condition, all participants were asked to look at dot diagrams shown to them and asked to specify if they had seen either a sad or happy face or no face in the diagrams.
* Data was analyzed to measure the participants’ detection and identification rates, the number of false alarms, etc.

* The participants’ moods changed significantly after listening to the music.
* The average correct identification was about 83 percent. The percentage of identification improved marginally to 84 percent after listening to music.
* While listening to happy music, participants were more accurate in detecting happy faces then when listening to sad music and vice versa.
* Participants who listened to happy music wrongly recognized images with no face as happy or sad faces. In the happy music condition, a higher number of happy faces were reported.

The present study found that music could significantly alter our mood, which in turn significantly affects visual perception. People who are happy will perceive even neutral faces as happy faces. According to the researchers, this occurs because of two mechanisms: the effect on decision-making after perceiving an image or the effect of the mood itself on the very process of understanding the image. Our conscious brain will not just see what is out there, but will analyze it using previous experience, context, mood, and expectation and make us see what it wants us to see. In other words, we might perceive the world less objectively than previously thought. A mood brought on by listening to music is a strong influence on the way a person perceives the world.

For More Information:
Music Alters Visual Perception
Publication Journal: PLoS One, April 2011
By Jacob Jolij; Maaike Meurs; University of Groningen, The Netherlands

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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