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What’s In A Label?: Resolving Ambiguities in Self-Reports of Emotional Responses To Music

Faculty Supervisor:
Dwight Krehbiel
Year of Project Completion:
Rae Dain


The aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between emotional labels and continuous self-reports of emotional responses elicited by music. Participants listened to ten samples of music and were asked to report responses on one of two circular emotion response spaces presented on a computer monitor. One circle included only four vague emotion labels, the other had twenty more specific labels. The axes of both circles were valence and activation. It was hypothesized that the fully labeled circumplex would present a less ambiguous response space which would lead to emotions reported further from neutral. Responses were initially graphed as time-series, then responses were averaged across the length of the tracks and twenty t-tests were conducted on these averages (valence and activation, for each of ten tracks), both to investigate a difference in responses between fully and sparsely labeled conditions. Six of the ttests produced values which were statistically significant. Thus, the presence of more specific emotion labels significantly affects self-reported emotional responses to music. Further studies are needed to determine whether the emotional response itself is changed by these labels.

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As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.