Researchers Say Music Alters Visual Perception

Music is not only able to affect your mood — listening to particularly happy or sad music can even change the way we perceive the world, according to researchers from the University of Groningen.

Visual perception is not a passive process: in order to efficiently process visual input, the brain actively uses previous knowledge (e.g., memory) and expectations about what the world should look like. Conscious experience does not only reflect “what is out there”, but also our previous knowledge and expectation.

music DMT emotion stimuliHowever, perception is not only influenced by previous knowledge. The perception of emotional stimuli is also influenced by the emotional state of the observer.

In other words, how we perceive the world does not only depend on what we know of the world, but also by how we feel.

Music and mood are closely interrelated — listening to a sad or happy song on the radio can make you feel more sad or happy.

These mood changes not only affect how you feel, but also change your perception.

jimi hendrix music safe kind of high

“Music is a safe kind of high.” – Jimi Hendrix

Even if there is nothing to see, people sometimes still see happy faces when they are listening to happy music and sad faces when they are listening to sad music.

Mr. Jolij and Mr. Meurs, students conducting this study at the University of Groningen Psychology Department, had their test subjects perform a task in which they had to identify happy and sad smileys while listening to happy or sad music. Music turned out to have a great influence on what the subjects saw: smileys that matched the music were identified much more accurately. And even when no smiley at all was shown, the subjects often thought they recognized a happy smiley when listening to happy music and a sad one when listening to sad music.

The research results suggest our conscious experience of the world may be less objective than we think.

The findings show that mood, as induced by music, is also reflected in visual awareness- “in the generation of conscious visual percepts in absence of structured visual input.”

In other words, the music you are listening to might directly alter the way you perceive the world.

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Access the research published in the open access journal PLoS ONE  by clicking here.


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