Music, Colour and Emotions

By Selina Haefeli

The brain is wired to link music with colour; from upbeat, yellowish pop tunes to dark and dour classical movements.

Although colour is processed in the visual cortex of our brain and music by the auditory system, there seems to be an area where the two senses combine to arouse emotions within us. Whether you have consciously noticed it or not, it is clear that a happy, fast melody can have the same effect on our mood as looking at bright and warm colours.

In a study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkley, this phenomenon was nicely shown. One hundred participants were played a variety of music clips and asked which colour they would pair it with. The researchers found that people tend to associate faster-paced music in a major key with lighter, vivid yellow and orange hues, while slower music in a minor key is more likely to be linked to dark greys and blues.

“Surprisingly, we can predict with 95 percent accuracy how happy or sad the colours people pick will be based on how happy or sad the music is that they are listening to,” said Steven Palmer, lead author of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science journal and vision scientist at UC Berkley in a statement.

The researchers found that these associations also apply to facial expressions. For example, upbeat music was almost always paired with images of happy faces, whereas dull and dark music was paired with sad-looking faces. Again, this shows how there is a circuit in our brain where different sensory experiences converge to produce specific types of emotions.

The participants in the study were from the United States and Mexico. But the scientists next want to test whether people from other parts of the world who listen to different cultural music share the same colour-music experiences.

“We know that in Mexico and the US the responses are very similar,” said Palmer. “But we don’t yet know about China or Turkey.”

Source: [PNAS]

Keyword: [Synesthesia]

Synesthesia is a condition where the stimulation of one sensory pathway leads to experiences in another sensory system. For example, some people with synesthesia associate colours with different letters and numbers.