Do individuals from different cultures imagine similar stories while listening to music?

January 27, 2022 - Caroline Kraft

In a new study published in PNAS, Dr. Devin McAuley and colleagues examined whether individuals from similar and dissimilar cultures imagine similar narratives while listening to the same pieces of instrumental music. 

This study included 622 participants from Michigan, Arkansas, and Dimen, China. Participants were asked to listen to pieces of Chinese and Western instrumental music and describe the stories they pictured while listening to each piece of music. The researchers selected music that was unfamiliar to participants but also pleasant to listen to. 

Participants in all three locations reported picturing vivid stories in response to the music. Notably, participants in Michigan and Arkansas, who share a similar cultural background, reported similar narratives, but these narratives were dissimilar to those of participants from Dimen.  

Though people view interpretations of music as being highly subjective and personal, these findings suggest that culture influences what people imagine while listening to music. 

The original research article can be found here:

Learn more about Dr. McAuley's work and the MSU TAP Lab here.