A precis of "Music and movement share a dynamic structure that supports universal expressions of emotion" by Beau Sievers, Larry Polansky, Michael Casey, and Thalia Wheatley (PNAS 2013 110 (1) 70-75):
Music and movement have long been linked through metaphor, but whether they share a common structure across disparate cultures remains largely unknown. To determine how music and movement are related, Beau Sievers et al. (pp. 70–75) developed a computer program to generate simple piano melodies and an animated bouncing ball, both controlled by the same statistical model. The authors then recruited 50 US college students, separated them into two equal groups, and asked one group to vary the position of slider bars on a computer screen that controlled five piano melody–related attributes—rate, jitter, direction, step size, and consonance—to reflect different emotions, such as “angry,” “happy,” “peaceful,” “sad,” and ”scared.” The other group performed the same task, but the slider bars varied equivalent attributes of the ball’s movement in relation to the same emotions. By and large, the authors report, individuals who used music to express an emotion set the slider bars to the same positions as those who expressed the same emotion through movement, suggesting that music and movement share an expressive code. When a modified version of the experiment was run among villagers in L’ak, a culturally isolated tribe in northeastern Cambodia, the authors found that the features of emotional expression through music and movement are similar across cultures. According to the authors, unraveling the universal features of music might help researchers uncover why and how music originated. — P.N.