Given that only two different groups were investigated, albeit very different groups, the assertion of universality seems a bit overstated.
Hauke Egermann, Nathalie Fernando, Lorraine Chuen and Stephen McAdams, Music induces universal emotion-related psychophysiological responses: comparing Canadian listeners to Congolese Pygmies, Frontiers in Psychology, 07 January 2015 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01341Abstract: Subjective and psychophysiological emotional responses to music from two different cultures were compared within these two cultures. Two identical experiments were conducted: the first in the Congolese rainforest with an isolated population of Mebenzélé Pygmies without any exposure to Western music and culture, the second with a group of Western music listeners, with no experience with Congolese music. Forty Pygmies and 40 Canadians listened in pairs to 19 music excerpts of 29–99 s in duration in random order (eight from the Pygmy population and 11 Western instrumental excerpts). For both groups, emotion components were continuously measured: subjective feeling (using a two- dimensional valence and arousal rating interface), peripheral physiological activation, and facial expression. While Pygmy music was rated as positive and arousing by Pygmies, ratings of Western music by Westerners covered the range from arousing to calming and from positive to negative. Comparing psychophysiological responses to emotional qualities of Pygmy music across participant groups showed no similarities. However, Western stimuli, rated as high and low arousing by Canadians, created similar responses in both participant groups (with high arousal associated with increases in subjective and physiological activation). Several low-level acoustical features of the music presented (tempo, pitch, and timbre) were shown to affect subjective and physiological arousal similarly in both cultures. Results suggest that while the subjective dimension of emotional valence might be mediated by cultural learning, changes in arousal might involve a more basic, universal response to low-level acoustical characteristics of music.
From the discussion:
There were several similarities in both groups' responses to the different musical stimuli. When Canadians rated Western music as subjectively arousing, both groups responded with increased physiological arousal (heart rate, skin conductance, and respiration). Additionally, in Pygmies, subjective arousal ratings increased for arousing Western music. Taken together, these similarities observed in emotional responding could be explained by universal reaction patterns to several low-level features. Both groups responded with increased subjective and physiological arousal (SCL) when the music had a higher tempo. Furthermore, increases in spectral centroid and pitch lead to increased skin conductance for both participant groups. Although respiration might have influenced skin conductance (Rittweger et al., 1997), these relationships might reflect increases in sympathetic arousal that could be caused by the brainstem reflex, rhythmic entrainment, or emotional contagion mechanisms, which are thought to be rather independent from cultural learning (Juslin and Västfjäll, 2008).Increases in tempo may have led to synchronization of internal body rhythms (Juslin et al., 2010), leading to increased arousal (rhythmic entrainment). However, tempo represents a feature that has been shown to co-vary with emotional expression in music (Juslin and Laukka, 2003), which might lead to emotional contagion, a mechanism that is also thought to be weakly influenced by cultural learning. Thus, the universal responses to tempo could also be explained by internal mimicking of the emotional expressions heard in the music, as emotion recognition has been previously been shown to be based to some degree on universal features (Fritz et al., 2009; Laukka et al., 2013).Increases in pitch and spectral centroid (timbral brightness) are also associated with emotion expression and could thus be associated with arousal because of emotional contagion. However, they might also have a direct influence on arousal because of the brainstem reflexes that react to urgent and important events as described by Juslin and Västfjäll (2008). Excerpt 17 in particular, from the soundtrack of the film “Psycho,” features unusually high and bright violin sounds that could be influential here.One might add that a brainstem-reflex-mediated arousal response could also influence emotion recognition, as some theories of emotion recognition suggest that it is based on the self-perception of simulated emotional resonance (Cochrane, 2010). To summarize, both routes of emotion induction previously described remain plausible: (a) brainstem reflex and rhythmic entrainment create physiological arousal that is then integrated into a conscious feeling or (b) expressions are internally mimicked and lead to induced emotion with associated responses (emotional contagion).