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Viewers' Interpretations of Film Characters' Emotions: Effects of Presenting Film Music

Before or After a Character is Shown


Author(s): Siu-Lan Tan, Matthew P. Spackman, Matthew A. Bezdek
Source: Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol. 25, No. 2 (December 2007), pp.
135-152
Published by: University of California Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/mp.2007.25.2.135 .
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Film Characters Emotions and Music

135

V IEWERS I NTERPRETATIONS OF F ILM C HARACTERS E MOTIONS :


E FFECTS OF P RESENTING F ILM M USIC B EFORE OR A FTER
A C HARACTER IS S HOWN
S IU -L AN TAN
Kalamazoo College
M ATTHEW P. S PACKMAN
Brigham Young University
M ATTHEW A. B EZDEK
Kalamazoo College
STUDIES ADDRESSING EFFECTS OF MUSIC ON VIEWERS
perceptions of film have usually presented music simultaneously with a scene of interest. In the present study,
177 undergraduates viewed film excerpts with music
presented before or after a scene featuring a single character. Whereas the film characters had emotionally neutral or subdued facial expressions, the music conveyed
happiness, sadness, fear, or anger. Overall, participants
tended to interpret characters emotions in ways that
were consistent with the particular emotion expressed
in the music, offering evidence for both forward and
backward affective priming effects. Our data confirm
Boltz, Schulkind, and Kantras (1991) findings on the
role of music in foreshadowing. As far as we are aware,
the effects of music on a prior scene have not been
demonstrated in film music research. Our findings suggest that music does not have to be presented concurrently with onscreen images to influence viewers
interpretations of film content.

Received January 18, 2007, accepted August 5, 2007.


Key words: soundtrack, foreshadowing, forward
affective priming, backward affective priming,
emotion recognition.

[T]he toughest thing for a film composer to know is


where to start, where to end; that is, how to place your
music.composer Max Steiner (1970, p. 393).

ILM MUSIC HAS COME A LONG WAY SINCE THE DAYS

in which live musical accompaniment masked the


sounds of noisy projectors and restless audiences
during silent films (Brown, 1994). While film music

Music Perception

VOLUME

25,

ISSUE

2,

PP.

135152,

ISSN

0730-7829, ELECTRONIC

once relied on musical clichs that broadly captured


actions and emotions on the screen (Cohen, 2003;
Prendergast, 1992), the role of the film score has
extended far beyond such pragmatic functions, developing into an art form that contributes to cinematic
experience in rich ways (e.g., see Cohen, 2003; Cooke,
2001). The film score has come to form an increasingly
complex relationship with screen images, particularly
with respect to the use of contrapuntal film music (i.e.,
music that does not duplicate the visual content of film,
Kalinak, 1992).
Research on the complex relationship between film
music, the visual content of films, and the viewer has
shown that music can significantly influence viewers
interpretations of film content. Areas of investigation
have included perceptions of characters emotional or
motivational states, characters roles or functions in a
scene, relationships among characters, interpretation
of the narrative, and predictions about what might
happen next in the film narrative (e.g., Boltz, 2001;
Bullerjahn & Gldenring, 1994; Sirius, 1991; Vitouch,
2001). Many studies have shown that film music can
have a particularly strong influence on viewers attitudes
toward characters and objects shown on the screen, especially when the onscreen images are neutral, ambiguous,
or open-ended.
An elegant demonstration of this was provided by
Marshall and Cohen (1988), who paired Heider and
Simmels (1944) animated film of moving geometric
shapes with original music representing either weak or
strong affect. The weak music was in a major key with
a constant tempo, and was played in the high register.
The strong music was in a minor key with a slow but
accelerating tempo, played in a lower range. Heider and
Simmels study showed that viewers tend to attribute
stereotypic qualities to the shapes based on their
appearance and movement in relation to the other figures. For instance, the large triangle was typically
described as the most active and aggressive. However,
Marshall and Cohen (1988) found that when paired
with the strong or weak music, viewers judgments
of the geometric figures differed with the musical
soundtrack. For example, the small triangle was judged
to be more active when paired with the strong music.

ISSN

1533-8312 2007

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DOI:10.1525/MP.2007.25.2.135

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136

Siu-Lan Tan, Matthew P. Spackman and Matthew A. Bezdek

The authors proposed that the temporal congruence


between the strong music and the movement of the
small triangle may have drawn viewers attention to the
small triangle, whereas under normal viewing conditions
attention was drawn to the large triangle (though see
Sirius & Clarke, 1994).
Music can interact with visuals in more complex and
subtle ways when the audiences focus is on human
characters, thereby affecting the progression of the narrative. Bullerjahn and Gldenring (1994) created an
original 10-minute film in which scenes of an elderly
man traveling on a train and subway are intercut with
scenes of a young couple eating breakfast. The researchers
commissioned five original soundtracks representing
film genres such as crime, melodrama, or thriller. Participants who viewed the film with the crime soundtrack more often attributed to the elderly man intentions
of crime or murder than those in the other conditions.
Participants who viewed the crime version also more
frequently predicted an outcome involving aggression
or murder than those who viewed either the indefinite
or the melodrama versions. Similarly, Boltz (2001) presented three ambiguous film scenes involving two
human characters and asked participants to judge the
relationship between the characters in the scene. Positive music led to positive interpretations, negative music
led to negative interpretations, and film excerpts viewed
in the no-music condition were interpreted as relatively
neutral. In particular, negative music was associated
with significantly more inferences about one character
intending to harm another character and more negative
adjectives describing the main characters personality.
Music can also influence viewers interpretations of
screen images under conditions in which behavior is
less ambiguous. Bolivar, Cohen, and Fentress (1994)
studied the effects of music on interpretation of footage
of interaction between (real) wolves. Commercial jingle
music that was pre-tested as aggressive or friendly was
added to filmed interactions between pairs of wolves
that were either friendly or aggressive toward each
other. The filmed aggressive interactions were rated as
significantly more aggressive than the friendly interactions, (suggesting a visual dominance effect, Posner,
Nissen, & Klein, 1976). However, within the aggressive
and friendly film conditions, the music either reduced
or increased the perceived degree of aggressiveness or
friendliness.
Explanations for how music affects the interpretation
of the visual content of film have often referred to the
activation of schema that guide the interpretation of the
visuals (Boltz, 2001), and the focusing of attention to
specific parts of the screen primarily through temporal

congruence1 (Marshall & Cohen, 1988), mood congruence (Boltz, 2001), or semantic congruence (e.g., Bolivar, Cohen, & Fentress, 1994). In schema theory, a
schema serves as an interpretive framework that guides
attention to aspects of the visual scene that are consistent with it. These aspects of the visual scene are subsequently better remembered than schema-irrelevant
information. Thus, film music may invoke schema that
lead to interpretations of visual content in ways that are
consistent with the music (Boltz, 2001; Boltz, Schulkind,
& Kantra, 1991). In explanations that focus on congruence, the viewers attention is drawn to aspects of the
visual scene that match, or are congruent with, the
soundtrack. A scene accompanied by Smetanas The
Moldau may draw attention to a river because the musical arpeggios move in synchrony with its shimmering
waves (temporal congruence) or because the viewer
knows the piece was composed as a tribute to the
Moldau River (semantic congruence).
Explanations for the effects of film music are not
mutually exclusive. For instance, Hung (2001) found
that viewers watching a television advertisement for a
shopping mall were more likely to infer that the mall
contained more high-end stores and that the people
shown were more successful and less daring when the
advertisement was accompanied by classical music than
when paired with rock music. Hung suggested that
viewers interpreted the visuals in ways that were consistent with schema activated by the classical music or
rock song, leading to different perceptions and inferences about the mall. Examples of temporal congruence
were also found, as the visual content was perceived as
moving at a faster pace when paired with the rock song
than the classical music (although played at the metronomic speed), and a shouting man was seen only in the
rock song condition (that featured a loud passage coinciding with the appearance of this image).
One question that remains is whether the effects of
music are limited to the film scenes that occur simultaneously with the music. Music may either accompany a
film scene to foreshadow it, or the onset of music may
be delayed in order to prolong tension. However, almost
all previous studies have presented music simultaneously with the images to be interpreted. Can music that
is presented before or after a scene of interest also affect
viewers interpretations of onscreen images? Or, must
the music accompany the images in order to affect
viewers interpretations? The present study examines
the effects of music presented before or after a film
1

For a discussion on how such points of synchronization are


achieved in film, see Chion (1994, pp. 58-62).

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Film Characters Emotions and Music

characters main action sequence. In particular, we focus


on the influence of music on viewers interpretations of
film characters emotions.
As far as we are aware, only one study to date (Boltz,
Schulkind, & Kantra, 1991) has examined participants
responses to the effects of music on a scene that continues after the music has ended.2 In Boltz et al.s (1991)
study, the music either ended 10 to 15 seconds before
the final scene began, or was played during the climax
of the scene. (The effects of playing music after a scene
were not examined). Compared to the control group,
participants tended to remember the events in the film
better when the accompanying music was congruent
with the resolution of the scene (i.e., positive musicpositive outcome, negative music-negative outcome).
However, in the foreshadowing condition (i.e., when
the music ended before the climactic scene began),
memory for the film was better when music was incongruent with the scene. The researchers suggested that
the accompanying music prompted selective focusing
on visual elements that matched the mood of the music
(see also Boltz, 2001). On the other hand, when the
music foreshadowed the conclusion, incongruent
music led to expectancy violations. That is, participants
expected a positive mood based on the music, and the
surprising negative resolution of the scene heightened
their attention and therefore enhanced memory.
Emotion Recognition

Whereas the focus of Boltz et al.s (1991) study was on


accuracy of recall of short film excerpts, the present
study focuses on the effects of music on the interpretation of the emotions of film characters. Research in a
variety of areas has consistently shown that people can
recognize emotion signals at relatively high rates. These
signals may be sent via the face, as in Ekmans (e.g.,
1971) well-known research on the accuracy with which
people can recognize facial expressions of emotion, but
also may be conveyed by voice (see Scherer, 2003), posture and gait (Montepare, Goldstein, & Clausen, 1987),
and through music (Juslin, 2001, 2003).
2
This does not include the few studies that have focused on musical foreshadowing (e.g., Bullerjahn & Gldenring, 1994; Vitouch,
2001), as they examine participants responses after both the music
and the film excerpt have ended, and therefore differ from our prescene condition). Thayer and Levenson (1983) also played music
(harsh-sounding dissonant chords) that preceded unpleasant scenes
of industrial safety films. However, placement of the music was not
the focus of the study and the aim was to induce emotion in the
viewers themselves. Thus this study is noted, but not discussed, in
our paper.

137

Though the literature on recognition of emotion signals has broadened to include channels in addition to
the face, many consider the face to be the primary
medium by which persons express emotions (Dunn,
2003; Ekman, 1965; Elfenbein & Ambady, 2002; though
see also Russell & Widen, 2002; Widen & Russell, 2003).
A great deal of research on the degree to which individual emotions have concomitant facial expressions has
been conducted (see Ekman, 1972; Ekman & Friesen,
1971; Keltner, Ekman, Gonzaga, & Beer, 2003). Although
there is still some disagreement in the literature on the
topic (Ekman, 1994; Russell, 1994), it is generally agreed
that at least the emotions of anger, fear, happiness, and
sadness (and possibly disgust and surprise) have unique,
associated facial expressions (Elfenbein & Ambady,
2002; Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols, 2003),
and that persons are generally accurate in interpreting
emotion in both amateurs and professional actors faces
(e.g., Carroll & Russell, 1997).
Despite the wealth of research on the identification of
emotion from faces in general, little is known about
how faces communicate emotion in film. Eidsvik
(1997) observes that though there is good reason to
believe that much of our film viewing time is spent
watching faces, since the advent of sound film little has
been published on facial expressions in cinema (p. 9).
Filmmakers often use devices such as slowing the progression of the narrative with a lingering shot and other
devices to focus the viewers attention on a film characters face. Although film theorists have debated about
the possible effects of such scenes on the progression of
the narrative (e.g., Coplan, 2006; Plantinga, 1999), there
is little empirical data on the topic.
Like the face, music often serves the important communicative function of expressing emotions. Although
studies of accuracy in identifying musical expression of
emotion are not as plentiful as those investigating accuracy in identifying facial expressions of emotion (see
Gabrielsson & Juslin, 2003, for a review), there is a body
of literature indicating that expressions of at least the
more basic emotions (e.g., anger, fear, sadness, and
happiness) are relatively accurately identified from
music.
Forward and Backward Priming

As our pre-scene condition (described more fully


below) involved playing emotionally relevant music
prior to the introduction of the character whose emotions participants evaluated, the present study resembles much of the work on affective priming. In such
research, signals assumed to convey particular emotions

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Siu-Lan Tan, Matthew P. Spackman and Matthew A. Bezdek

are presented so as to assess their effects upon participants interpretations of more ambiguous stimuli (see
Zajonc, 1980, 1984). Studies of affective priming have
typically shown that affectively relevant stimuli can
affect the perceptions of ambiguous targets whether the
priming has occurred consciously or unconsciously
(see Clore & Schnall, 2005; Storbeck & Robinson,
2004). The affective primes are typically seen as serving
a framing effect, or as activating affectively relevant
schemata that then affect subsequent evaluations of
more ambiguous objects.
For the most part, studies of affective priming present
the prime prior to the neutral stimulus. In the present
study, however, we present music prior to the main
sequences of action, as in traditional affective priming
studies, as well as after the main sequences of action.
This study therefore constitutes an investigation of both
forward and backward affective primes. Though a great
deal of research shows stimuli presented prior to a neutral target can affect perceptions of the target (forward
priming), more recent research suggests that affective
priming can occur when the prime follows the target as
well (backward priming) (see Fockenberg, Koole, &
Semin, 2006; McNamara, 2005). The present study
includes conditions in which both kinds of prime will
be evaluated. In addition, though in much of the affective priming literature relatively simple stimuli (e.g.,
still faces, musical chords, etc.) with short exposure
times (typically less than one second) have been
employed as primes, the music employed as primes in
the present study was more complex and longer
(approximately 15 seconds). This allowed us to more
closely approximate the conditions under which viewers experience film music while still permitting us to
evaluate our hypotheses. The longer duration of exposure to the prime is also consistent with other studies
that have used music as a prime (e.g., Hansen &
Hansen, 1988).
The Present Study

The main aim of the present study is to examine


whether presentation of music expressing particular
emotions (happiness, sadness, fear, or anger) either
before or after the appearance of a film character can
influence viewers interpretations of the characters
emotions. As mentioned earlier, we are aware of only
one study that has examined viewers responses to a
film sequence that follows after the music has ended
(Boltz et al., 1991), and the effects of presenting music
after a scene have not been previously investigated.
Although some studies suggest that music expressing

emotions such as sadness, happiness, and fear may also


induce physiological responses in listeners (e.g.,
Krumhansl, 1997; Rickard, 2004) we limited our focus
to the interpretation of the film characters emotions, as
opposed to mood induction in the viewer. Music that
expresses a particular emotion may not always induce
the corresponding emotion in listeners (see, for example, London, 2001/2002). Further, some studies and
theories suggest that the effects of music on mood
induction are rather complex when combined with film
(see, for example, Ellis & Simons, 2005).
The method and aims of our study differ from previous research on film music in three main ways. First, as
discussed above, the music is presented both prior to,
and following, a film scene. In the aforementioned
study by Boltz et al. (1991), music presented in the foreshadowing condition ended before the final outcome
of a scene but was played while the characters were
shown on the screen. In the present study, the use of
music overlapped only briefly with the appearance of
the main character. Our pre-scene music was played
only during an opening sequence of neutral (establishing) shots before the main character is seen and ends
within a few seconds of the appearance of the main
character. The post-scene music began a few seconds
before the main character is last seen, and accompanied
a neutral closing sequence. The brief overlap between
the music and the scene containing the characters
served only to provide continuity between shots
(Chion, 1994, p. 47).
Second, while most film music studies have addressed
emotion in music only on a single bipolar scale such as
positive and negative (Boltz, 2001) or happy and
sad (Vitouch, 2001), we used music tracks that convey
four different emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, and
fear. Our choice of including more than two dimensions of emotion in music is consistent with recent discussions in the emotion literature regarding the
question of whether it is possible to clearly define a positive/negative dimension with regard to emotions (see
Solomon & Stone, 2002, for discussion). Similarly, in
the literature on emotion and music, theorists and
researchers have questioned whether single bipolar
dimensions are sufficient to differentiate between certain emotions in music (Juslin & Laukka, 2004).
Third, previous studies have often employed film
excerpts with clearly positive or negative resolutions, as
the focus was on the effects of music that was congruent
or incongruent with the mood or outcome (e.g., Boltz,
2004; Boltz et al., 1991; Ellis & Simons, 2005). The present study, however, employed film excerpts that were
neutral and open to interpretation. The scenes featured

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Film Characters Emotions and Music

a single character engaged in a mundane activity (such


as looking out of a window or sipping a drink on a
porch). There was little action and no speech, and there
were no clear emotional cues in the characters faces or
bearing, or in the setting of the scene.
Based on findings from research on the effects of
(concurrent) music on participants understanding of a
characters motivation and intentions, as well as
research on affective priming, we hypothesized that
pre-scene music would lead to interpretations that
correspond with the emotion conveyed by the music.
There are no previous studies that we are aware of concerning the effects of music presented after a scene.
However, based on research on forward and backward
priming effects, we should expect to find an effect for
the music played after the scene, as well as the music
played before the scene. That is, we should expect participants interpretations of film characters emotions to
correspond to the emotions expressed in the music,
whether thethe music preceded or followed the main
action sequences in the films. However, given the relative scarcity of research on backward priming, as well
as the somewhat mixed results of the research (see
Fockenberg, Koole, & Semin, 2006), we hypothesized
that the effects of our post-scene music would be
weaker than those of our pre-scene music.
Method
PARTICIPANTS

Two hundred and two undergraduates (125 female,


76 male, and 2 who did not indicate their gender) with
a mean age of 20.35 years (SD = 3.24) participated in
the study. Students were recruited from introductory
level psychology courses and dormitories at Kalamazoo
College and Brigham Young University and received
extra credit for participating. Twenty-five participants
were dropped from the study because they reported
having previously seen one or more of the films used in
the study or recognized one or more of the pieces of
music. A total of 177 participants were included in the
final sample. An additional 31 undergraduate students
participated in a pilot study, as described below, but
were not included in the main analyses.
MATERIALS

Selection of film excerpts. The film excerpts were


taken from works by celebrated film directors,3 and
3
The use of all media materials in this study comply with the
guidelines set forth in the House Report (items 97-495, pp. 8-9) on
piracy and counterfeiting amendments.

139

constructed in the following format. Each excerpt was


approximately one minute in duration. The first 10s of
each excerpt consisted of static shots of either the exterior or interior of a house or building with no actors
visible. The next 40s of each excerpt featured a single
actor performing a simple task or movement without
speaking, and included at least one close-up shot of the
actors face. The final 10s of each excerpt displayed
building interiors or exteriors with no onscreen actors.
Care was taken to select film excerpts in which the
actors displayed no clear or distinct emotion. The
excerpts contained no speech or music. We also tried to
select works that would not be well known to American
undergraduate students. Based on these criteria,
excerpts were taken from Woody Allens Interiors
(1978), Jean-Jacques Beineixs Diva (1981), Franois
Ozons Swimming Pool (2003), Krzysztof Kieslowskis
Three Colors: Red (1994), and two excerpts were taken
from Kieslowskis Three Colors: Blue (1993). All the film
excerpts featured female actors due to the limited selection of scenes that met all our criteria. All music was
removed from the film excerpts, but environmental
noise and sound effects were preserved whenever possible as long periods of silence are uncomfortable and
unnatural to film audiences (Chion, 1994).
A group of 31 undergraduate students (19 females
and 12 males) with a mean age of 21.33 years (SD =
1.46) participated in a pilot study to test the six film
excerpts for potential use in the study. Participants
viewed each of the films without any accompanying
music and completed the same questionnaires used in
the main study (as described below). Of primary interest were participants responses on sets of rating scales
evaluating the emotions expressed by the characters
and participants perceptions of the physiological reactions experienced by the characters. These responses
were averaged for each of the six film excerpts and, for
each set of scales, the excerpts that scored highest were
identified. As we were attempting to identify the four
film excerpts that were perceived by participants to be
the most neutral with regard to emotional content, we
reasoned that those excerpts that scored highest on
the emotion and physiological response scales could be
considered to be the least emotionally neutral. Thus,
two film excerpts (Kieslowskis Three Colors: Red and
one of the excerpts from Kieslowskis Three Colors: Blue)
were dropped. The remaining four excerpts were used in
the main study and are described in Appendix A.
Selected images from three of the films are provided in
Figure 1. (Only three of the four films are featured, as
the muted colors of Interiors did not allow for a faithful
translation of the images.)

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Siu-Lan Tan, Matthew P. Spackman and Matthew A. Bezdek

FIGURE 1. Images from three of the four film excerpts used in the study. (From top to bottom: Swimming Pool, Three Colors: Blue, Diva. A color version
of this figure may be found in the online PDF version of this article at http://caliber.ucpress.net/loi/mp.

Selection of music excerpts. The music excerpts used


in the present study were drawn from a study by
Spackman, Fujiki, Brinton, Nelson, and Allen (2005).
Spackman et al. played 20 s excerpts of classical music
(that had been demonstrated in previous research to
convey happiness, sadness, anger, or fear) to 130 college
students. The students were asked to choose which of
the four emotions each music excerpt expressed. (An I
dont know response was also included). Twelve of the
excerpts received a consensus of greater than 70 percent
among the 130 participants.
From the twelve excerpts identified by Spackman
et al. (2005), we chose one excerpt for each emotion.
Our selections are also consistent with a recent literature
review identifying musical features that characterize
music conveying happiness, sadness, anger, and fear
(See Juslin & Laukka, 2004, Table 1). The excerpt for
fear was from a piece called Alone by Morricone
from The Mission soundtrack. The happiness excerpt
was from Coppelia by Delibes. The sadness music was
an excerpt from Adagio in G Minor by Albinoni. The
music for anger was from the piece The Hunters
from Prokofievs Peter and the Wolf. Each excerpt was
approximately 15 s in length. Care was taken to start
and stop at the end of a phrase or musical idea, so as not
to draw viewers attention to the music due to abrupt
onset or offset. More information about the four music
excerpts is provided in Appendix B.
Creation of film and music pairings. Film and music
excerpts were imported, edited, and rendered by a

professional video editor with 20 years of experience,


using Final Cut Pro (a film-editing software program).
The music excerpts were dubbed to either the first 15 s
of the film excerpt, or the last 15 s of the film excerpt.
An overlap of a few seconds with music and onscreen
character was used to provide a smooth transition
between the opening or closing shot and the scene with
the character. DVD-quality video was used in all phases
to avoid reduction in picture quality. Altogether, 32 versions of film-music pairings were created (4 film
excerpts 4 music excerpts, with music at either the
beginning or ending of the scene).
Because the intent of the experimental design was to
not draw attention to the music, it was reasoned that each
participant should be exposed to each of the four music
pieces once and that each piece should be attached to a
different film excerpt. As there were 32 total versions of
film-music pairings, our design resulted in eight participant groups (with each group viewing and rating four
film-music combinations). For instance, the pairings for
one of the eight groups were film 1 with happiness music,
film 3 with fear music, film 4 with sadness music, and
film 2 with anger music (all pre-scene music). The placement of the music was held constant within each of the
eight participant groups to again avoid drawing attention
to the music. The order in which each of the four music
pieces was played within each of the eight participant
groups, as well as the film excerpts with which each music
piece was paired was systematically randomized so as to
decrease potential order effects.

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Film Characters Emotions and Music

PROCEDURE

Participants were run in groups of about 25, and were


seated in a spacious tiered classroom with a seating
capacity of 75 people. All participants had a clear view
of a large screen with dimensions of about 115 cm by
115 cm mounted on the wall. The film excerpts were
projected onto the screen via an NEC Model MT1056
projector and the sound was presented through speakers on either side of the screen. Participants were provided with index cards on which they were invited to
write any questions during the procedure, so that the
researcher could answer questions individually without
influencing others in the group.
The procedure employed an implicit music listening
design in which participants attention is drawn to a
task other than music listening, and it is only later
revealed that music is one of the main variables of
interest. Participants were asked to focus on the emotional content of the film excerpts. By directing participants attention to the screen through our instructions,
we hoped to create a situation that would resemble film
viewing in real world conditions, and in which the
audiences attention is rarely focused directly on the
music. (See Appendix C for the instructions given to
participants).
The four film excerpts in each group were shown in
succession, with a one-minute stretch break between
the second and third film excerpts. After each viewing,
participants responded to questions about the film
excerpt they had just seen. First, they were asked to give
a one-word label that best describes the emotion experienced by the main character. Participants then completed three sets of rating scales.
The first set of ratings measured the degree to which
participants perceived characters as experiencing a variety of emotions. Scales ranged from 0 to 6 (with higher
numbers indicating greater intensity of the emotions)
and included the following anchors: fear, depression,
anger, boredom, excitement, sadness, anxiety, happiness,
and distress. The second set of ratings measured the
degree to which participants considered different
aspects of the films to be important signals of the film
characters emotions. Scales ranged from 0 to 6 (with
higher numbers indicating greater importance) and
included the following anchors: lighting, color, background music, location of scene, season or climate, facial
expressions, body posture, movement or gait, and clothing.
The third set of ratings measured the degree to which
participants perceived the film characters as experiencing a number of physiological reactions associated with
the characters emotions. Scales ranged from 0 to 6 (with
higher numbers indicating participants thought the

141

descriptors described the characters reactions well) and


included the following anchors: racing heart, sweaty palms,
breathless, relaxed, light headed, trembling or shaking,
flushed, energized, calm, and alert.
Finally, after viewing all four film excerpts, participants completed a questionnaire that assessed their
level of film literacy and asked whether participants had
seen the films before or knew the music played during
the procedure. Students who were familiar with any of
the films and/or the music were dropped from the study
and were not included in the final sample. During
debriefing, the aims of the study were discussed and the
rationale for the implicit music listening design and
true nature of the edited film excerpts were revealed.
Results
ANALYSES OF EMOTION LABELS

After viewing each film, participants were asked to give


a one-word label that best described the characters
emotion. The emotion labels obtained from participants were collected and, in cases in which variations of
emotion terms were obtained (e.g., angry and anger),
the nominal version of the term was retained and all
others deleted. A total of 152 emotion labels was
obtained.
Five independent raters blind to the experimental
hypotheses were employed in a sorting task designed to
reduce the 152 labels to a more manageable number of
emotion categories. Raters were instructed to sort the
152 labels into as many categories of similar emotions
as they thought necessary. The number of categories
generated by the five judges ranged from six to 18 and
averaged 9.4. Each of the judges categorizations was
then entered into a separate matrix with the 152 emotion labels obtained from participants as both column
and row headers. For each judge, a one in a cell in their
matrix indicated that the emotion labels indicated in
the column and row headers were placed in the same
category by the judge and a zero indicated the labels
were placed in different categories. The matrices for
each judge were then summed and this summed matrix
was subjected to a hierarchical cluster analysis. This
analysis yielded four clusters of emotion labels. The first
cluster was called a fear cluster. It included terms such
as troubled, unrest, cautious, and timid. The second
cluster was an anger cluster. It included terms such as
bitterness, annoyed, irritated, and mad. The third cluster was a sadness cluster, including terms such as
solemn, loneliness, depressed, and alone. The fourth
cluster was a happiness cluster. It included the terms
dreamful, sentimental, calm, and joy.

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Each participants emotion label for each film they


rated was coded according to the clusters derived from
the cluster analysis and analyzed with SPSSs generalized estimating equations procedure. Music emotion
(happiness, sadness, anger, and fear) was included as a
repeated measures factor, and placement of music (prescene or post-scene) was a between subjects factor. The
four film excerpts were included as a repeated measures
covariate so as to control for any differences across film.
As the generalized estimating equations procedure
accepts only dichotomous dependent variables, four
analyses were conducted, with one for each of the four
cluster memberships (the fear, anger, sadness, and happiness emotion label clusters). For each analysis, the cluster
of interest was coded as 1 and the other clusters as 0.
For the happiness, sadness, and fear clusters, main
effects for the music emotion variable were found (happiness: Wald chi-square (3) = 146.36, p < .01; sadness:
Wald chi-square (3) = 305.92, p < .01; and fear: Wald chisquare (3) = 150.92, p < .01) and the music emotion by
placement of music interaction was also significant
(happiness: Wald chi-square (3) = 118.13, p < .01; sadness: Wald ch-square (3) = 108.58, p < .01; and fear:
Wald chi-square (3) = 68.79, p < .01). The tests of the
anger cluster could not be calculated as the frequencies
in the cells of the model were too low.
Table 1 lists the proportions of responses in the music
emotion by placement of music cells for the four emotion clusters. As may be seen in Table 1, the majority of
emotion labels in both the pre- and post-scene conditions were in the corresponding emotion clusters for
the happiness, sadness, and fear music. It may also be
seen that far fewer participants employed labels from
the anger cluster to describe the emotions of characters
in the anger music condition. In the pre-scene condition, labels for these characters emotions were mostly
in the fear cluster (41.0%) and, in the post-scene condition, labels for these characters emotions were mostly
in the happiness cluster (38.3%).4
In addition to the main effect for music emotion, the
music emotion by placement of music interaction may
4
An analysis of the accuracy of male and female respondents was
also conducted to determine any differences across gender in the
degree to which participants emotion labels corresponded to the emotions conveyed in the music pieces. The correlation between music
emotion and participants emotion label categories was measured with
a kappa value. Females (kappa = .27, p < .001) were slightly more accurate in identifying the music emotions than were males (kappa = .21,
p < .001), though this difference was not significant. As gender was not
an important aspect of this study in general, and because adding this
factor would have prevented conducting many of the tests reported, it
was not included in the models tested in this study.

also be seen in Table 1. Characters emotions in the happiness music condition were more often called happiness when the music followed the main action sequence
(53.9%) than when it preceded it (42.2%). The placement of the music did not seem to affect the labeling of
characters emotions in the sadness and fear music conditions. For the anger music condition, characters emotions were more frequently called fear in the pre-scene
condition (41.0%) and happiness in the post-scene
condition (38.3%).
RATINGS OF CHARACTERS EMOTIONS
AND PHYSIOLOGICAL REACTIONS

In order to assess the effects of music emotion (anger,


fear, happiness, and sadness music pieces) and placement of music (either before or after the main action
sequences) on participants perceptions of characters
emotions and physiological reactions, three mixed
model analyses of variance were conducted. For each
analysis, the music emotion factor (4 levels) served as
a repeated measures factor and placement of music
(2 levels) served as a between subjects factor. Film
(4 levels) was included as a repeated measures covariate.
This allowed us to partial out the effects of any differences across the four films that may have affected participants ratings. The dependent variables for the three
analyses were the ratings made on the emotion, film
content, and physiological reactions rating scales
respectively. For the purposes of the three ANOVAs, the
multiple ratings were included as a repeated measures
factor with either nine or ten levels (depending upon
the set of ratings analyzed) and the tests of interest were
the interactions with this ratings factor.5 The analyses
involving the three sets of ratings are discussed below.
Emotion rating scales. The first analysis involved tests
relating to the emotion rating scales. Participants indicated the degree to which film characters experienced
each of a number of emotions. Embedded within the
list of emotion ratings were scales assessing the degree
to which participants thought the film characters experienced the four emotions of interest: anger, fear, happiness, and sadness. Means for each of the four levels of
the music emotion factor on each of the emotion rating
scales are offered in Table 2. The music emotion by rating
5
This repeated measures approach was selected in preference to a
multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) for two reasons. First,
as our data for each of the three ANOVAs conducted met the
assumption of compound symmetry, the repeated measures
approach employed here was appropriate. Second, because we had
both between- and within-subjects variables (i.e., we had mixed
models), using the repeated measures approach rather than the
MANOVA approach allowed us to use SPSSs MIXED procedure to
better account for these sources of variability.

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143

TABLE 1. Proportions of Characters Emotions Attributed Labels from Each of the Four Emotion Clusters.
Emotion Cluster
Placement

Music Emotion

Happiness

Sadness

Fear

Anger

Pre

Happiness
Sadness
Fear
Anger

42.2
21.1
31.1
31.3

32.2
64.2
17.8
20.5

14.4
10.5
50.0
41.0

11.1
4.2
1.1
7.2

Post

Happiness
Sadness
Fear
Anger

53.9
23.5
18.6
38.3

22.5
61.2
24.7
20.2

18.0
12.2
51.5
28.7

5.6
3.1
5.2
12.8

scales interaction was found to be significant, F(24,


6359.59) = 25.23, p < .01. It should be noted that the
adjusted degrees of freedom for this and the other tests
reported are the result of estimating the F-values for the
tests from Wilks Lambda values. As our statistical analyses were conducted using SPSSs MIXED procedure, the
Satterthwaite procedure was employed to correct for
unequal variances.
As seen in Table 2, responses on the emotion rating
scales differed across the music excerpts (happiness,
sadness, fear, or anger), indicating that participants
interpretations of the film characters emotions were
affected by the music excerpts. For the tests of each of
the emotion rating scales, follow-up Tukeys tests were
conducted. For all scales (with the exception of the
anger rating scale), differences were in the expected
direction. That is, participants tended to rate film characters emotions in ways that corresponded with the
emotion expressed in the accompanying music. The
film excerpts that received the highest happiness rating
were those accompanied by the happiness music; film
excerpts accompanied by sadness music were rated
highest on the depression, boredom, and sadness scales;
and film excerpts accompanied by fear music were rated
highest on the fear, anxiety, and stress scales. The only

exception to this trend was that film excerpts accompanied by anger music; though rated highest on the anger
scale, they were not significantly higher on this scale
than were the other excerpts. It should be noted here
that mean values on the emotion rating scales are not
standardized. Because of this, it may appear, for example, that the happiness musical piece received higher
ratings on the sadness scale than on the happiness scale.
Therefore, values on any emotion rating scale should be
examined for relative differences across the four music
pieces, and not across the rating scales.
In addition to the music emotion by rating scale
effect, there was also a placement of music by rating
scale interaction, F(8, 6359.60) = 3.46, p < .01. Followup tests for each of the emotion rating scales indicated
significant differences across the placement of music
factor for five of the nine rating scales. Pre-scene condition means were higher on the fear (pre-scene M = 1.85,
post-scene M = 1.53, SD = 1.81), depression (pre-scene
M = 2.36, post-scene M = 2.07, SD = 2.00), sadness (prescene M = 2.71, post-scene M = 2.34, SD = 2.06), anxiety (pre-scene M = 2.96, post-scene M = 2.38, SD =
2.05), and distress scales (pre-scene M = 2.52, postscene M = 1.96, SD = 1.85). Post-scene means were not
significantly greater than pre-scene means on any of the

TABLE 2. Means for the Emotion of Music by Rating Scale Interaction.


Rating Scales
Music Emotion

Fear

Depression

Anger

Boredom

Excitement

Sadness

Anxiety

Happiness

Distress

Happiness
Sadness
Fear
Anger

0.99
1.03
2.73
1.99

1.86
3.41
1.85
1.73

0.91
1.04
1.04
1.28

1.29
1.69
1.20
1.00

2.00
1.18
1.64
1.91

2.08
3.97
2.05
2.00

2.03
2.18
3.55
2.89

1.69
1.09
0.85
1.18

1.70
2.22
2.67
2.35

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TABLE 3. Means for the Significant Music Placement by Emotion of Music by Rating Scales Interaction.
Rating Scales
Anger
Music Emotion
Happiness
Sadness
Fear
Anger

Happiness

Pre-scene

Post-scene

Pre-scene

Post-scene

1.10
1.17
0.99
1.12

0.72
0.92
1.10
1.42

1.43
1.02
1.09
1.23

1.94
1.16
0.62
1.13

emotion rating scales. It may be seen that, for the most


part, participants perceived characters emotions to be
more intense when the main action sequences were preceded by the music than when the music followed the
main action sequence.
In addition to the two effects described above, there
was also a significant music emotion by placement of
music by rating scales interaction, F(27, 3068.88) =
1.70, p < .01. Follow-up analyses on each of the emotion
rating scales indicated significant differences on the
anger and happiness scales. Means for these scales are
offered in Table 3.
As shown in Table 3, happiness and sadness music
excerpts were both associated with higher ratings on the
anger scale in the pre-scene condition than in the post
scene condition. However, these excerpts received
higher ratings on the happiness scale in the post scene
condition than in the pre-scene condition. Fear excerpts
had higher ratings on the anger scale in the post-scene
condition than the pre-scene condition. Fear excerpts
did, however, receive higher ratings on the happiness
scale in the pre-scene condition than in the post-scene
condition. Anger excerpts received higher ratings on the
anger scale in the post-scene condition than the prescene condition. They received higher ratings on the
happiness scale in the pre-scene condition than in the
post-scene condition. Though these findings are preliminary, they seem to indicate that participants perceptions of characters emotions may be differentially
affected by the combination of which emotion is
expressed in the music accompanying a film as well as
the timing of when the music is played. More on this
will be said below.
Film cue scales. The second analysis involved tests of
the effects of the music emotion and placement of
music factors on the ratings on the film cues scales.
(These ratings measured the degree to which participants considered the following aspects of the films to be
important cues for the film characters emotions: lighting,
color, background music, location of scene, season or

climate, facial expressions, body posture, movement or


gait, and clothing). Significant effects were found for
the music emotion by rating scales interaction, F(24,
6361.68) = 3.16, p < .01, the placement of music by rating scales interaction, F(8, 6361.69) = 2.72, p < .01, and
the music emotion by placement of music by rating
scales interaction, F(27, 3069.58) = 1.52, p < .05. A followup discriminant analysis was conducted to permit for a
more complete understanding of these significant
effects. Discriminant analysis identifies the best linear
combination of the dependent variables for discriminating among the groups of interest. This procedure
therefore allows for identifying the variables on which
the groups of interest differ most. The eight music emotion by placement of music groups served as the independent variable and the nine film cue rating scales
served as dependent variables. The first two discriminant functions explained 74.9% of the variability in the
nine scales. The standardized discriminant function
coefficients are listed in Table 4.
As may be seen in Table 4, the first canonical dimension derived from the discriminant analysis may be
characterized as a music dimension, as this scale
received by far the greatest weighting. The second
TABLE 4. Standardized Discriminant Function Coefficients
for Film Cue Rating Scales.
Discriminant Functions
Rating Scales

CAN1

CAN2

Lighting
Color
Background music
Location of scene
Season/climate
Facial expressions
Body posture
Movement/gait
Clothing

0.201
0.277
1.020
0.191
0.077
0.185
0.036
0.044
0.048

0.250
0.277
0.111
0.304
0.200
0.814
0.143
0.03
0.187

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Film Characters Emotions and Music

Face

dimension may be considered a facial expressions


dimension, as this scale received the highest weighting
on this dimension. The eight music emotion by placement of music group means were then plotted in the
two-dimensional discriminant function space derived
from the discriminant function analysis. This plot is
shown in Figure 2.
In Figure 2, the music emotion by rating scales effect
may be seen. The sad means were highest on the face
dimension and also high on the music dimension. It
seems that participants thought characters facial
expressions (as well as the background music) were
especially indicative of their emotions in the sad music
condition. The fear means were high on the music
dimension, but low on the face dimension. The anger
and happiness means were fairly similarly rated. They
were low on both the music and face dimensions. The
placement of music by rating scales effect is indicated
by the pre-scene means being higher on the face dimension. In other words, when the music was played before
the main action sequence in the films, participants indicated that the characters facial expressions were more
important to identifying their emotions than when the
music was played after the main action sequences.
The music emotion by placement of music by rating
scales effect is shown in Figure 2. It may be seen that, for

Sad, pre

Sad, post

145

the sadness and happiness means, the pre-scene condition was rated higher on the face dimension and lower
on the music dimension than was the post-scene condition. For these emotions, when participants heard the
music prior to the main action sequence, the facial
expressions of the characters were made more salient
and the music itself was rated as being less important to
signaling the characters emotions. For the anger pieces,
hearing the music first made the facial expressions more
important, but did not affect perceptions of the importance of the background music to signaling emotions.
For the fear piece, placement of music did not affect perceptions of the facial expressions of characters, but did
affect perceptions of the importance of the background
music. When participants heard the fear music after the
main action sequence, they indicated that it was more
important to their emotion identifications.
Physiological reaction scales. The third analysis involved
tests of the effects of the music emotion and placement of
music factors on the ratings on the physiological reaction
scales. (This scale measured the degree to which participants perceived the film characters as experiencing physiological reactions associated with emotions). Significant
effects were found for the music emotion by rating scales
interaction, F(27, 7150.30) = 13.21, p < .01, and the placement of music by rating scales interaction, F(9, 7150.28) =
2.93, p < .01. A discriminant analysis was again conducted to permit for a more complete understanding of
these significant effects. The eight music emotion by
placement of music groups once again served as the independent variable and the ten physiological response rating scales served as dependent variables. The first two
discriminant functions explained 78.5% of the variability
in the ten scales. The standardized discriminant function
coefficients are listed in Table 5.
TABLE 5. Standardized Discriminant Function Coefficients
from the Physiological Reaction Discriminant Analysis.

Happy, pre

Discriminant Functions
Music
Anger, pre
Anger, post
Happy, post
Fear, pre

Fear,
post

FIGURE 2. Music emotion by placement of music group means in the


discriminant function space derived from the film cue discriminant
analysis.

Rating Scales

CAN1

CAN2

Racing heart
Sweaty palms
Breathless
Relaxed
Light headed
Trembling/shaking
Flushed
Energized
Calm
Alert

0.636
0.149
0.468
0.113
0.083
0.015
0.123
0.104
0.054
0.706

0.051
0.236
0.108
0.375
0.186
0.605
0.091
0.833
0.018
0.026

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Happy, post

Tension

As shown in Table 5, the first canonical dimension


derived from the discriminant analysis may be characterized as an action readiness dimension. The racing
heart and alert scales received the highest ratings on this
scale. The second dimension may be called a tension
dimension as the energized and the trembling/shaking
scales received the greatest weights on this dimension
(the negative relationship with the trembling/shaking
dimension indicates an inverse relationship with this
scale). The eight music emotion by placement of music
group means were then plotted in the two-dimensional
discriminant function space derived from the discriminant function analysis. This plot is shown in Figure 3.
In Figure 3, the music emotion by rating scales interaction may be seen. The two means for each of the four
music pieces may be found in a different quadrant of
the plot. The anger means were high on the tension and
action readiness dimensions, indicating both positive
tension and readiness to act. The happiness means were
high on the tension dimension, but low on the action
readiness dimension. The fear means were high on the
action readiness dimension, but low on the tension
dimension. The sad means were low on both the action
readiness and tension dimensions. The placement of
music by rating scales effect is indicated by the prescene means being higher on the action readiness
dimension for each music piece. In other words, when

Anger, pre

Happy, pre

Anger, post
Action Readiness
Fear, pre
Fear, post
Sad, post
Sad, pre

FIGURE 3. Music emotion by placement of music group means in the


physiological reaction discriminant function space.

the music was played before the main action sequence in


the films, participants indicated that the characters
physiological reactions were more indicative of a
readiness to act.
Discussion

The findings of the present study suggest that even


when not presented simultaneously with the main
action sequence of a film, music can influence viewers
perception of film characters emotions. The data supported our hypothesis that a correspondence would be
found between the emotion expressed in music played
before or after a film character is shown, and viewers
interpretations of the emotions of that character. In
other words, evidence was found for both forward and
backward affective priming. For example, when asked
to label a film characters emotions in an open-ended
question, after viewing a scene with fear music, participants indicated the characters were experiencing fear.
However, when the same scene was shown with happiness music, participants tended to attribute happiness
to the film character. It was interesting that these effects
occurred even though the music was played for only
about 15 s of a one-minute film excerpt, and only overlapped with the appearance of the character for a few
seconds.
With regard to the placement of music, the emotions
were generally perceived to be more intense when the
music was presented before the scene rather than after
the scene. It appears that hearing the pre-scene music
primed participants to look for signs in the facial
expressions that match the musics emotions and attributed these emotions to neutral faces. In addition, participants perceived a greater readiness to act in film
characters when the music preceded the main action
sequence. It may well be that the pre-scene music served
a more effective priming function, invoking schema
that guided participants attention to cues following the
music so that the main action sequences were interpreted in a manner consistent with the emotion of the
music, and resulted in the audience ascribing that emotion to the character (Boltz, 2001; Boltz et al., 1991).
These findings are consistent with those of Fockenberg
and his colleagues (Fockenberg, Koole, & Semin, 2006)
who suggest that forward priming is likely more effective than backward priming because forward primes
come prior to and therefore have greater effects upon
the evaluative processing of targets.
Our finding of a forward priming effect for film
music extends previous work by Boltz, Schulkind, and
Kantra (1991). Though Boltz and her colleagues did not

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interpret their findings in the context of affective priming, their conclusions about the effects of pre-scene
music are similar to ours: that foreshadowing music
encourages an audience to extrapolate a future scenario
of events that is consistent with the implied mood of
the music (Boltz, 2001, p. 429). While Boltz et al.
(1991) presented music before climactic scenes with
clearly positive or negative resolutions, our findings
show that music can also influence interpretation of
more emotionally neutral or subdued scenes. Thus,
while foreshadowing is often assumed to prepare an
audience for a scene of great importance and often creates suspense (Boltz et al.), our data suggest that prescene music can also affect viewers interpretations of
the internal states of film characters during more reflective moments in a film.
The finding that post-scene music also significantly
affected participants interpretations of the film characters emotions is particularly interesting. As explained
by Fockenberg and colleagues, in backward affective
priming, the evaluative prime succeeds the target stimulus and possibly influences ongoing target processing
(Fockenberg et al., 2005, p. 800, emphases provided).
What this implies is that stimulus evaluation is a continuous, dynamic process that does not end with the
presentation of the target (p. 800). With respect to processing of film content, our findings suggest that viewers continue to process information about a scene after
it has ended, and that they may use new information in
processing those previous images. Further, this new
information need not be presented on screen, but may
occur on a more subtle level through dramatic scoring.
These results point to the temporal and dynamic
aspects of film viewing, and imply that just like music
listening (e.g., Clarke & Krumhansl, 1990; Tan & Spackman, 2005; Tan, Spackman, & Peaslee, 2006), processing
of ongoing film content may not always be linear and
chronological.
In line with previous studies employing more covert
or implicit listening tasks (e.g., Bolivar et al., 1994;
Boltz, 2004; Vitouch, 2001), we found that music can
influence viewers interpretations of the visual content
even when attention is directed away from the musical
soundtrack. This may be partly due to the fact that there
is fairly high agreement on the musical features that
convey the four emotions expressed by the music
included in this study (see Juslin & Laukka, 2004, Table 1).
Further, the film excerpts may have been so subdued or
neutral in emotional content that even when attention
was directed to the visual content, the music may have
provided the most salient emotional cue for interpreting characters emotions. As Bolivar et al. (1994)

147

found, music may have a somewhat less dramatic influence in cases where clearer or more distinct emotions
are conveyed in the visual content. Cohen (1993) also
found that the effects of music on interpretation of
films of two people interacting with each other were
strong only for an ambiguous excerpt.
The most important film elements in accounting for
the variability between emotion of music groups were
background music and facial expressions. While
Thompson, Russo, and Sinclair (1994) found that participants are often not aware that the musical score
influences their reactions to film, our participants
reported that background music was one of the most
important cues in determining the emotion of the film
character, especially in the fear music condition. The
film score is such an important part of the film-viewing
experience that even when attention was directed away
from the music, participants reported that it served as
an important signal for the film characters internal
states.
Indeed, we were interested to observe that only about
one-third of the 31 participants in the pilot study (in
which six film excerpts were shown without any music)
correctly reported that there was no accompanying
music in any of the film scenes. (This was in spite of the
fact that No music was played was provided as the first
option). The majority of participants indicated that
they had heard music in one or more of the six film
excerpts, and identified the specific scenes that they
believed had been accompanied by music. Apparently,
the musical soundtrack is so closely associated with the
cinematic experience that the participants believed that
the images were accompanied by a film score even when
there was no music at all.
Some limitations of the present study should be
noted. It is possible that our study would have yielded
somewhat different results had our participants viewed
longer excerpts or an entire film, as many film scores
establish a particular musical syntax or style for a film
that may not be apparent from a short scene. As
Thompson et al. (1994) found, participants responses
for shorter, simpler film excerpts do not always generalize to longer and more complex film episodes. Moreover, music does not operate in isolation but interacts
with other cinematic devices to produce complex composite effects pertaining to the audiovisual experience
(e.g., see Magliano, Dukstra, & Zwaan, 1996). In focusing our attention on placement and emotion of music,
for instance, we did not consider how the music might
interact with cinematic devices (such as montage and
mise en scne). Another possible problem for generalizability of the findings is that the onscreen characters in

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Siu-Lan Tan, Matthew P. Spackman and Matthew A. Bezdek

the film excerpts we selected were all female, due to an


inability to find film excerpts with male characters that fit
our criteria. Further research could examine the effects of
music on the perception of male characters emotions.
The present study did not include a condition in
which the music is played concurrently with the film
character. In a future study, it might be interesting to
examine whether the intensity of the effect of the music
would be greater with forward priming or with concurrent (accompanying) music. Also, we employed retrospective rating scales as we thought that they would
serve as the most efficient means of capturing possible
priming effects. However, it would have been interesting to see whether emotion of music, or placement of
music, would lead to different patterns of viewers
responses across time. At what point or points in the
film excerpts would responses for pre-scene music be
higher than for post-scene music conditions? Would
these be specific to the events in the film, or is there a
predictable arc of emotional intensity based on pre- or
post-scene presentation of music? Continuous emotion
measuring devicessuch as EmuJoy 6 (see Nagel,
Kopiez, Grewe, & Altenmller, in press) or EmotionFace (see Schubert, 2004), among otherswould be
particularly suited to capture the temporal and dynamic
aspects of viewers responses to film.
FUTURE AVENUES FOR FILM MUSIC RESEARCH

Despite the significant role that music is assumed to


play in film, psychologists have not devoted much
attention to the study of film music (Cohen, 2003). As
far as we are aware, there are only approximately 20
published studies in the psychological literature on film
music to date. The few studies that have focused on film
music and emotion have mainly examined the effects of
music conveying strong emotions on viewers attention,
comprehension, or memory of the images or narrative.
Many interesting questions remain. Future studies
may go beyond examining the effects of music on interpretations of aspects of the onscreen images, to examine whether the emotional connotations of speech
utterances may also be affected by film music. Rubin
(1985) has distinguished between the four voices of the
soundtrack: music, silence, speech, and sound effects.
Of these, Rubin claims film almost always privileges
the voice (Chion, 1994, p. 5). Music and vocal expression convey emotions through similar acoustic cues (see
Juslin & Laukka, 2003, for a review), and manipulating
affective cues (such as intensity, rate, and pitch height)
6
This software is available freely to researchers at http://musicweb.
hmt-hannover.de/emujoy/

in music and speech often have similar affective consequences (Ilie & Thompson, 2006). It would be interesting to see if background music can alter the nuances of
film monologue or dialogue by interacting in particular
ways with emotionally relevant vocal cues in speech
prosody. Film composer Ernst Korngold, for instance,
often used music to punctuate the vocal rhythms of
important lines of dialogue (Kalinak, 1992).
Film theorists have raised many provocative questions that could be addressed in empirical studies. For
example, there is disagreement about the effects of the
so-called scene of empathy (the slowing of the progression of the narrative, to focus the audiences attention on the face of a film character). One question is
whether the focus on a main characters face leads to
emotional contagion responses (Coplan, 2006) or
whether it evokes more sophisticated human responses
such as empathy (Plantinga, 1999). This question, as
well as the broader topic of the role of music as a device
for drawing attention to a characters face, and communicating emotions and other internal states, could be
addressed in future empirical studies.
Filmmakers also often discuss their intuitions about
the effects of the soundtrack on the film audience,
though these are rarely tested in controlled conditions.
For instance, film director Chion (1994) proposes that
anempathetic music (which he defines as music that
seems indifferent to the content of the onscreen
images) creates the effect not of freezing emotion but
rather intensifying it, p. 8), and also hypothesizes about
the effects of absence of music.
Legendary film and sound editor Walter Murch
claimed that a certain sound colour will make you see
colours in the picture in much more vibrant ways
(Ondaatje, 2005, p. 247). He recalled pairing a scene
from Apocalypse Now with Soltis recording of Wagners
The Ride of the Valkyries, compared to a metronomically
similar recording conducted by Leinsdorf. The two
recordings were similar except that brasses are more
prominent in the Solti version, while the strings were
highlighted by Leinsdorf. The scene showed a view looking out of a helicopter, and onto the waters of the Philippine gulf below. In Murchs words: There was a
peculiarly wonderful acidity to the blue of the ocean that
synergized with the metallic brass of Soltis recording.
With Leinsdorf, the strings had none of that brassiness . . . and as a result the blue looked dead (p. 247).
Can timbre or orchestration of film music, in fact, interact with film viewers perception of color, brightness, or
texture? These, and many other intriguing questions
about the role of the film score on viewers experience,
remain to be addressed in future studies.

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Film Characters Emotions and Music

The picture emerging from the psychological literature on film music confirms what film directors and
film theorists have long believed: that music can have a
subtle but powerful influence on the cinematic experience (e.g., Eisenstein, 1949; Carroll, 1988). In film theorist Gorbmans words: Change the score on the
soundtrack, and the image-track can be transformed
(1987, p. 30).

149

reviewers for their careful reading and helpful comments on an earlier draft. Special thanks to Danny Kim
at Power Up Productions, Joseph Olsen at Brigham
Young University, our research teams of Kalena Cuny, T.
Michael Liddell, Nathan Marsh, Andrea Schnakenburg,
Aisake Vuikadavu at Brigham Young University, and
Amber Cussen, Sarah Gayde, Sarah Manley, Drew Sturgeon, Matthew Vazquez at Kalamazoo College, and to
May-Lan Tan.

Author Note

It should be noted that the first and second authors contributed equally to this project. The authors are grateful
to William Forde Thompson and three anonymous

Correspondence concerning this article should be


addressed to Siu-Lan Tan, Department of Psychology,
Kalamazoo College, 403-C Olds-Upton, 1200 Academy
Street, Kalamazoo, MI 49006, USA. E-MAIL: tan@kzoo.edu

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Appendix A
Film Excerpts Used in Study
Interiors
Excerpt:
Summary:

0:00:15-0:01:05. (1:22:20-36 added for post-scene exterior shot).


An interior view of a house, then a view of large windows. A mantelpiece over a fireplace, followed by a view of
an empty dining room. A woman looks around the house. She walks through the living room. She proceeds up
a staircase. She looks out of an upstairs window. A view of waves rolling onto a beach. Exterior view of a house.
Featured actor: Mary Beth Hurt
Greenhut, R. (Producer), & Allen, W. (Writer/Director). (1978). Interiors [Motion Picture]. United States:
Rollins-Joffe Productions. (Available from Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios, Inc.)
Diva

Excerpt:
Summary:

01:50:45-01:53:10 (portion of character singing removed).


A view of an outdoor statue, then the corner of a large building. A woman enters a large open space. She looks
up, then down. The woman walks onto a stage. She looks at the empty theater. She walks to the edge of the stage.
Pan to a view of rows of chairs and aisles. View of a domed ceiling. Featured actor: Wilhelmenia Wiggins
Fernandez
Ossard C. (Producer), & Beineix, J. (Director). (1981). Diva [Motion Picture]. France: Les Films Galaxie. (Available
from Anchor Bay Entertainment, 1699 Stutz Drive, Troy, MI 48084)
Swimming Pool

Excerpt:
Summary:

0:24:08-0:25:00. (Brief freeze-frames added to prolong pre-scene and post-scene exterior shots).
A view of plants in front of a house. An exterior view of a house. A woman opens a door and enters a kitchen.
She looks at dishes on a table. She exits the house. She sits on a table outside. She stands up, takes a few steps,
and looks upward. Exterior view of a house, then a view of large blue shutters. Featured actor: Charlotte
Rampling
(continued)

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Siu-Lan Tan, Matthew P. Spackman and Matthew A. Bezdek

Ozon, F. (Writer/Director). (2003). Swimming pool [Motion Picture]. France: Fidlit Productions. (Available
from Focus Features, 100 Universal City Plaza, University City, CA 91608)
Three Colors: Blue
Excerpt:
Summary:

00:31:08-00:31:51 (exterior shots added).


An exterior view of apartments, followed by a balcony. A woman enters, carrying a box. She unpacks the box.
She hangs something from the ceiling. She looks at the object. She walks and disappears behind the hanging
object. Exterior shot of buildings. Aerial view of city at night. Featured actor: Juliette Binoche
Karmitz, M. (Producer), & Kieslowski, K. (Writer/Director). (1993). Three colors: Blue [Motion Picture]. France:
CAB Productions. (Available from Miramax Films)

Appendix B
Music Excerpts Used in Study
Sadness:

Albinoni: Adagio in G minor. Track 14, 1:16-1:36.


Compact Disc: I. Brown (1996): Serenade/ Holzgerlingen, DE: hnssler Classic.

Happiness:

Delibes: Copplia. Track 1, 1:15-1:36.


Compact Disc: M. Ermler (1993): Copplia/Middlesex, UK: Conifer Records.

Fear:

Morricone: Alone. Track 17, 1:02-1:17.


Compact Disc: E. Morricone (1986): The Mission/New York: Virgin Records.

Anger:

Prokofiev: The Hunters. Track 7, 1:22-1:33.


Compact Disc: E. Kurtz (1989): Peter and the Wolf/Middlesex, UK: EMI Records.

Appendix C
Instructions to Participants
Thank you for participating in this study. We are interested in how films convey the emotions of film characters to viewers. You
will be watching four very brief film excerpts. In each excerpt, you will see a character. We are interested in what emotion you
think the character in each film excerpt is experiencing, and how you came to that conclusion.
There are a number of ways in which filmmakers may indicate the emotions of characters to viewers. These include alterations
in lighting, the colors of characters surroundings, and the movements or body language of characters. We would like you to
view each film clip carefully and determine for yourself which emotion you think each character is experiencing.

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