Expectation, Emotion and Aesthetics in Musical Listening

Marcus Pearce
Lecturer in Sound and Music Processing, Queen Mary, University of London

Eduard Hanslick (1854) identified the importance of unconscious expectations in the aesthetic experience of music. Unexpected musical events introduce a sense of tension and suspense while expected events generate pleasurable feelings of resolution. Some 100 years later, Leonard B. Meyer (1957) suggested that expectations are built upon learned cognitive representations of musical styles instantiated as probability systems in the minds of composers, performers and listeners. Until recently, there has been surprisingly little scientific work to corroborate these hypotheses. I will present a dynamic information-theoretic model of auditory expectation (Pearce, 2005) that learns through musical experience and generates probabilistic predictions about forthcoming events (e.g., the pitch or onset time of the next note), given the current context. In empirical experiments with listeners, ratings of unexpectedness and uncertainty, and electrophysiological responses to expected and unexpected notes, show a close correspondence with the predictions of the model, measured in terms of information content and entropy (Pearce, 2005; Pearce et al., 2010; Omigie et al., 2012, 2013). Furthermore, behavioural and physiological emotional responses to live musical performances have been shown to vary systematically with the probabilistic expectations of the model (Egermann et al., 2013).

Educated in experimental psychology and artificial intelligence at Oxford and Edinburgh, Marcus Pearce received his PhD from City University, London, before continuing as a post-doctoral research fellow, working on music cognition at Goldsmiths, University of London and neuroaesthetics in the Wellcome Laboratory of Neurobiology at University College London. He is currently Senior Lecturer in Sound and Music Processing at Queen Mary University of London where he is leader of the Music Cognition Lab, director of the EEG Laboratory and co-director of the cross-faculty Centre for Mind in Society. His research interests cover computational, psychological and neuroscientific aspects of music cognition, with a particular focus on dynamic, predictive processing of melodic, rhythmic and harmonic structure, and its impact on emotional and aesthetic experience.


tir 13 okt 15
13:00 - 14:00


DTU Compute



Meeting Room S02, Meeting Center, Anker Engelundsvej, Building 101A, 2800 Kgs. Lyngby
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