Expressive intent, ambiguity, and aesthetic experiences of music and poetry

Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis, William H. Levine, Rhimmon Simchy-Gross, Carolyn Kroger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


A growing number of studies are investigating the way that aesthetic experiences are generated across different media. Empathy with a perceived human artist has been suggested as a common mechanism [1]. In this study, people heard 30 s excerpts of ambiguous music and poetry preceded by neutral, positively valenced, or negatively valenced information about the composer’s or author’s intent. The information influenced their perception of the excerpts—excerpts paired with positive intent information were perceived as happier and excerpts paired with negative intent information were perceived as sadder (although across intent conditions, musical excerpts were perceived as happier than poetry excerpts). Moreover, the information modulated the aesthetic experience of the excerpts in different ways for the different excerpt types: positive intent information increased enjoyment and the degree to which people found the musical excerpts to be moving, but negative intent information increased these qualities for poetry. Additionally, positive intent information was judged to better match musical excerpts and negative intent information to better match poetic excerpts. These results suggest that empathy with a perceived human artist is indeed an important shared factor across experiences of music and poetry, but that other mechanisms distinguish the generation of aesthetic appreciation between these two media.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0179145
JournalPloS one
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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