Although it is well established that melodic contour (ascending vs. descending) and modality (major vs. minor) evoke consistent emotional responses in adult listeners, the mechanisms underlying musical affect are unknown. One possibility is that the mechanisms are based on innate perceptual abilities (e.g., Helmholtz, 1885/1954). Another possibility is that the ability to associate various aspects of music with emotion is learned through exposure to one’s musical culture (e.g., Serafine, 1988). The current research examines the affective responses to major and minor ascending and descending melodies by 5-year-olds, 8-yearolds, and college students. Affective responses to modality did not appear until age eight and affective responses to contour appeared only in the college students. These results are consistent with previous developmental perception experiments on contour and modality (Imberty, 1969; Krumhansl & Keil, 1982; Morrongiello & Roes, 1990) and extend the understanding of the relation of perception, cognition, and culture in determining musical affect.
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