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Viewing the world through the prism of music: Effects of music on perceptions of the environment

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Psychology of Music

Published online on


Questionnaire and interview studies suggest that music is valued for its role in managing the listener’s impression of the environment, but systematic investigations on the topic are scarce. We present a field experiment wherein participants were asked to rate their impression of four different environments (a quiet residential area, traveling by train in the suburbs, at a busy crossroads, and in a tranquil park area) on bipolar adjective scales, while listening to music (which varied regarding level of perceived activation and valence) or in silence. Results showed that the evaluation of the environment was in general affected in the direction of the characteristics of the music, especially in conditions where the perceived characteristics of the music and environment were incongruent. For example, highly active music increased the activation ratings of environments which were perceived as inactive without music, whereas inactive music decreased the activation ratings of environments which were perceived as highly active without music. Also, highly positive music increased the positivity ratings of the environments. In sum, the findings suggest that music may function as a prism that modifies the impression of one’s surroundings. Different theoretical explanations of the results are discussed.