Emotional Musical Signals (EMUSIG)

Information on my Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action researching music and fear at the University of Zurich from May 2019 - June 2021

The emotional power of music is a force we reckon with on a daily basis. Bubbly music in advertisements entices us to buy products. Tranquil music in medical waiting rooms evokes calm and diffuses anxiety. In spite of its extensive influence, there are still many open questions about how music impacts our emotions. In particular, not much is known about how music communicates fear. This lack of understanding is surprising given the important role fear plays in society. Fear-based mental disorders are the most widespread, negatively impacting the lives of millions worldwide. Fear drives our daily behaviors and thus is used frequently to spread beliefs for political gain. Given its relevance, there are many benefits for deepening our understanding of fear. Music, a powerful emotional influencer, could be the ideal tool for furthering our knowledge of fear.

This interdisciplinary action aimed to unlock the potential of music as a platform for fear research through the combined use of methods from cognitive neuroscience, behavioral psychology, and music theory. Specifically, my research objectives were to create a new database of scary music excerpts, catalogue cultural and biological musical fear signals, and synthesize the results of this research into a comprehensive report on musical fear signaling. This research was carried out at the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Zurich. Final analyses are underway and the full results will soon be submitted for publication.

Some results from the project are available in my article "Terrifying film music mimics alarming acoustic feature of human screams" in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (Trevor, Arnal, & Fruehholz, 2020). Presentations of these results are also available for viewing in my Media page.

This project received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Grant Agreement (No. 835682).

The above image provides more detail on the steps I took to achieve my research goals during my MSCA action.