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Is music a cultural universal?

Imagine that you are sitting in a theater, watching a film. The movie opens with the heroine sitting on a park bench with a grim expression on her face. Cue the music. The first slow and mournful notes play in a minor key. As the melody continues, the heroine turns her head and sees a man walking toward her. The music slowly gets louder, and the dissonance of the chords sends a prickle of fear running down your spine. You sense that the heroine is in danger.

Now imagine that you are watching the same movie, but with a different soundtrack. As the scene opens, the music is soft and soothing, with a hint of sadness. You see the heroine sitting on the park bench and sense her loneliness. Suddenly, the music swells. The woman looks up and sees a man walking toward her. The music grows fuller, and the pace picks up. You feel your heart rise in your chest. This is a happy moment.

Music has the ability to evoke emotional responses. In television shows, movies, even commercials, music elicits laughter, sadness, or fear. Are these types of musical cues cultural universals?

In 2009, a team of psychologists, led by Thomas Fritz of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, studied people’s reactions to music that they’d never heard (Fritz et al. 2009). The research team traveled to Cameroon, Africa, and asked Mafa tribal members to listen to Western music. The tribe, isolated from Western culture, had never been exposed to Western culture and had no context or experience within which to interpret its music. Even so, as the tribal members listened to a Western piano piece, they were able to recognize three basic emotions: happiness, sadness, and fear. Music, it turns out, is a sort of universal language.

Researchers also found that music can foster a sense of wholeness within a group. In fact, scientists who study the evolution of language have concluded that originally language (an established component of group identity) and music were one (Darwin 1871). Additionally, since music is largely nonverbal, the sounds of music can cross societal boundaries more easily than words. Music allows people to make connections, where language might be a more difficult barricade. As Fritz and his team found, music and the emotions it conveys can be cultural universals.

Ethnocentrism and cultural relativism

Despite how much humans have in common, cultural differences are far more prevalent than cultural universals. For example, while all cultures have language, analysis of particular language structures and conversational etiquette reveal tremendous differences. In some Middle Eastern cultures, it is common to stand close to others in conversation. North Americans keep more distance and maintain a large “personal space.” Even something as simple as eating and drinking varies greatly from culture to culture. If your professor comes into an early morning class holding a mug of liquid, what do you assume she is drinking? In the United States, it’s most likely filled with coffee, not Earl Grey tea, a favorite in England, or Yak Butter tea, a staple in Tibet.

Questions & Answers

What is sociology
Celestina Reply
sociology is the study of groups and their way of interaction in the society
lucky
discuss the roles the family has failed as a primary agent of socialisation?
Lotyang Reply
the family has failed as a primary agent of socialisation because it has not been able to inculcate the needed values to bring unity in the society
Damba
please what are the stages in social movement
faith Reply
social movement is the movement where people gathered and keep their own demand to fullfill it social movement generally casus by name of women,untouchbility,dominance in the country
unknown
it also cause in emergence and decline of devlopment then aslo social movement causes generally
unknown
stages in social movement involved people's coming together for the means of interaction and for the welfare of the society
lucky
what is the overview of sociology
Simon Reply
social issues faced in India
Alan Reply
poverty untouchbility corruption child marraige overpopulation all this are the big issues of social in india:)
unknown
reservation system, polluted politics, people's exploration, illiteracy, etc.
what did August comte(1798-1857) say about social dynamics?
elia Reply
what is a monogamous family?
Basu Reply
family or marriage ?
asad
what is a monogamous family?
Basu
?
asad
What is family
Sukhjit Reply
family is type of relationship in this it deals with positive and negative tearms and conditions
unknown
who's a sociologist
Denis Reply
family is a group of people who are lived under one roof and they have a biological relation.
what is the origin and development of sociology?
namiak Reply
can any one will differentiate between social movement and pressure group?
Nasiru Reply
what is the origin and development of sociology?
namiak
Do you believe that Americans may be somewhat more ethnocentric than people in the other Western industrial nations? If so, why might this be the case? If not, why is this widely believed?
Elizabeth Reply
first of all the nation have the belive an faith in their ritualistic religion people go in different temple but they don't knew the culture and the ritual of all religions so human make the braches of religion and human follows it also with this Americans also follow their own god and goodness ...
unknown
Yes, because Americans are more inclined to their culture and want to superimpose theirs to the entire world. They always show their supremacy.
Hemendra
why do people deviate from socital norms
cornelius Reply
people deviate from scital norms because their reputation matter that is why they do not involve themself in big issue of society to solve the problem. They see what is going on they are aslo intrested to knew but they not say anything on that time its a human nature which is selfishness kind...
unknown
whar is the correct ans ?
unknown
what*
unknown
what is the difference between sociology, physiology and
Evelyn Reply
what is sociology
Jobee Reply
Sociology is the study of society, patterns of social relationships, social interaction and culture of everyday life. 
Aamirah
Sociology is simply the study of culture and society
Kooko
sociology is a social science that studies human behavior
Nelly
sociology stands socious. sociology is the study of social awareness to knew the knowlege of social culture and social issue .sociology aways follow the instruction of social behavior in the society . it have some rule and regulation
unknown
sociology is the study of culture and individual behavior of a particular society or community
galiwango
Sociology deals with the study of society, patterns of social relationships, social interactions and culture of everyday life
Steve
the relevant of sociology
Tamba
The study of sociology helps the individual to understand human society and how social system work....
ogbe
What is Sociology? The first social scientist to use the term sociology was a Frenchman by the name of Auguste Comte who lived from 1798-1857. As coined by Comte, the term sociology is a combination of two words. The first part of the term is a Latin, socius- that may variously mean society, associ
idris

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Source:  OpenStax, Introduction to sociology 2e. OpenStax CNX. Jan 20, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11762/1.6
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