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Our emotions match music to colors: study


A new study finds that our brains are wired to make music-color connections depending on how the melodies make us feel. Mozart's jaunty "Flute Concerto No. 1 in G major" is most often associated with bright yellow and orange, whereas his somber "Requiem in D minor" is linked to bluish gray, the findings revealed.

US researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, recruited nearly 100 subjects for a study on music and color, with half of the subjects residing in the San Francisco Bay Area and the other half in Guadalajara, Mexico. "The results were remarkably strong and consistent across individuals and cultures and clearly pointed to the powerful role that emotions play in how the human brain maps from hearing music to seeing colors," said lead author and UC Berkeley vision scientist Stephen Palmer.Using a 37-color palette, the UC Berkeley study found that people tend to pair faster-paced music in a major key with lighter, more vivid, yellow colors, whereas slower-paced music in a minor key is more likely to be teamed up with darker, grayer, bluer colors."Surprisingly, we can predict with 95 percent accuracy how happy or sad the colors people pick will be based on how happy or sad the music is that they are listening to," said Palmer. In three experiments, the subjects listened to 18 classical music pieces that varied in tempo (slow, medium, fast) and in major versus minor keys. In the first experiment, participants were asked to pick five of the 37 colors that best matched the music to which they were listening. Separately, they rated each piece of music on a scale of happy to sad, strong to weak, lively to dreary, and calm to angry. The researchers add that the findings could have implications for creative therapies, advertising and even music player gadgetry. For example, they could be used to create more emotionally engaging electronic music visualizers, computer software that generates animated imagery synchronized to the music being played. Currently, the colors and patterns appear to be randomly generated and do not take emotion into account, researchers said.

Palmer will present the study's findings at the International Association of Colour conference at the University of Newcastle in the UK on July 8. Findings were also published online this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Next, the research team plans to study participants in Turkey where traditional music employs a wider range of scales than just major and minor. "We know that in Mexico and the US the responses are very similar," Palmer said. "But we don't yet know about China or Turkey."Access the findings: