Imaginings From an Unfamiliar World: Narrative Engagement With a New Musical System

Psyche Loui, Benjamin M. Kubit, Yongtian Ou, Elizabeth H. Margulis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Human imagination is generative and creative yet deeply rooted in culture and familiarity. Recent studies have quantified the effects of culture on stories that are imagined during music listening, but the music used in previous work was always drawn from a tradition familiar to participants from at least one of the cultures. Here we report the first study of imagined stories to music written in a musical system that is novel to participants from each culture, thus allowing for a direct comparison of narratives prompted by the same set of excerpts that is comparably unfamiliar to both groups. Music composed in the Bohlen– Pierce scale was presented to participants from two geographically defined cultures: Boston, United States and Beijing, China. We also examined how individual differences, such as in musicality and sensitivity to musical reward, might affect narrative engagement and semantic content of the imagined stories as measured by tools from natural language processing. Results showed that semantic spaces of musicevoked imaginings differed between Boston and Beijing cohorts. While both cultures were similarly engaged by the story response task, differences emerged in the semantic content of the imagined stories. Boston participants who reported being more absorbed by music wrote more unconventional stories, whereas Beijing participants who reported more emotional responses to music wrote more conventional stories. These results reveal the roles of culture and individual differences in modes of narrative engagement and imagination during music listening.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPsychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Applied Psychology


  • creativity
  • culture
  • imagination
  • music
  • scale


Dive into the research topics of 'Imaginings From an Unfamiliar World: Narrative Engagement With a New Musical System'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this