Department of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences
Providence, Rhode Island, 2006 November 6
The 18th century British philosopher, Edmund Burke, speculatedthat "sublime" aesthetic experiences (such as the experience of"awe") are related to the evoking of fear. Burke's speculations arose from informal observations, but recent music cognition research provides a more detailed and compelling account that is consistent with Burke's intuitions. This presentation discusses empirical research related to four major classes of emotional responses occasionally evoked by music: (1) frisson (characterized by chills and shivers), (2) laughter (characterized by the distinctive "ha-ha-ha" vocalization), (3) awe (characterized by gasping or breath-holding), and (4) weeping (characterized by tears and lump in one's throat). Physiologically, these four responses closely resemble the four classic vertebrate responses to fear: fight (defensive aggression), flight (withdrawl or escape), freeze (immobility) and submission (appeasement). I describe how musical passages might evoke such responses, and why the ensuing responses might be experienced as pleasurable.