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Based on a survey of 2,500 people in the US and China listening to a variety of musical genres, research scientists at Berkeley have identified at least 13 emotions triggered by music across cultures. They are: amusing; annoying; anxious/tense; beautiful; calm/relaxing/serene; dreamy; energising/pumped up; erotic/desirous; indignant/defiant; joyful/cheerful; sad/depressing; scary/fearful; and triumphant/heroic.

“We have rigorously documented the largest array of emotions that are universally felt through the language of music,” said study senior author Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at Berkeley.

The researchers’ findings have been turned into an interactive audio map with snippets of music to illustrate how it all works. The write-up on the Berkeley site cites two distinct potential applications for the research: the first being psychological and psychiatric therapies; and the second being “helping music streaming services like Spotify adjust their algorithms to satisfy their customers’ audio cravings or set the mood”.

DSPs have used broad mood categories to determine the scope of some of their key playlists brands – like Peaceful Piano and others such as Sad Bops and Feelin’ Good. But using research like this to better understand how these moods relate to each other, where they overlap and how they differ across countries and cultures (going beyond the original research areas of the US and China) could prove a whole new way of precision engineering recommendation algorithms.

Photo by Spencer Imbrock on Unsplash

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