Aesthetic and physiological effects of naturalistic multimodal music listening

Cognition. 2023 Oct:239:105537. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2023.105537. Epub 2023 Jul 22.


Compared to audio only (AO) conditions, audiovisual (AV) information can enhance the aesthetic experience of a music performance. However, such beneficial multimodal effects have yet to be studied in naturalistic music performance settings. Further, peripheral physiological correlates of aesthetic experiences are not well-understood. Here, participants were invited to a concert hall for piano performances of Bach, Messiaen, and Beethoven, which were presented in two conditions: AV and AO. They rated their aesthetic experience (AE) after each piece (Experiment 1 and 2), while peripheral signals (cardiorespiratory measures, skin conductance, and facial muscle activity) were continuously measured (Experiment 2). Factor scores of AE were significantly higher in the AV condition in both experiments. LF/HF ratio, a heart rhythm that represents activation of the sympathetic nervous system, was higher in the AO condition, suggesting increased arousal, likely caused by less predictable sound onsets in the AO condition. We present partial evidence that breathing was faster and facial muscle activity was higher in the AV condition, suggesting that observing a performer's movements likely enhances motor mimicry in these more voluntary peripheral measures. Further, zygomaticus ('smiling') muscle activity was a significant predictor of AE. Thus, we suggest physiological measures are related to AE, but at different levels: the more involuntary measures (i.e., heart rhythms) may reflect more sensory aspects, while the more voluntary measures (i.e., muscular control of breathing and facial responses) may reflect the liking aspect of an AE. In summary, we replicate and extend previous findings that AV information enhances AE in a naturalistic music performance setting. We further show that a combination of self-report and peripheral measures benefit a meaningful assessment of AE in naturalistic music performance settings.

Keywords: Audiovisual; Motor mimicry; Naturalistic; Neuroaesthetics; Physiology.

MeSH terms

  • Arousal / physiology
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Humans
  • Movement
  • Music*
  • Sympathetic Nervous System