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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

which distinguish between community and tribe
Shah Reply
Community is quite different from tribe....gemienschaft and gesselschaft
Mc
what is institution.... according to sociology..?
RAJES Reply
what does mean rationality according to j.habermas
Shah Reply
factors contributing to cultural inertia?
Thabsile Reply
What is cultural inertia?
Thabsile Reply
difference between urban and rural areas
Thabsile Reply
What does law in a society mean
Alisha Reply
What is socialization
Thabsile
socialization, is the behavioural process of human to adopt or acceptable in their various societies.From Moses Ebena
Hitmos
Which human being bcme social being
Lukman
I'm writing paper 2 bridging course final year so it also includes sociology plz help guys
Thabsile
Culture is a way of of people life
Lukman
ottways says that.... what in ur whole life that is cultue
Shah
law in a society mean rule of governing authority that allow and forbid the said acts.answer is for Alisha
Imtiyaz
what is social stratification plx give me answer
yasir
social stratification means social differentiation based on occupation, social status
Imtiyaz
Social stratification means hierarchical arrangement of an individual or group of individual into strata or position
Mc
Social stratification means hierarchical arrangement of an individual or group of individual into strata or position of social statificition
Rashmiranjan
social stratification is a kind of social diffrentation where by a society groups people into socio_ economic strata , based upon their occupation and income, wealth and social status or derived power (social and Political).
Meer
plz tell me changing gender spaces in family ,work and its implications on the individual and society across culture?
Meer
I don't no
Rashmiranjan
stratification in sociology what does it mean?
salem
stratification refers to a system by which a society ranks categories of people in a hierarchy...
mulena
the difference some groups have greater status, power, and wealth than other groups....
mulena
what is society
yasir Reply
society means any geographical area where group of people share equal practice of living activities culture and other aspects
Imtiyaz
yes
Darlene
Or it is a group of persons,sharing self-sufficient system of action that is capable of lasting longer than the life span of any individual
Omar
sociology, deal on society,human social interaction with separate people and not only as individuals, for example school, churches and associations.
Hitmos
oh wow im just realizing theres a chat forum 😯
Tyrone
Yeah hi...
Max weber
Kelvine
what is the relevance of sociology
Alqaseem Reply
hi
Nath
hi
noumbisi
hello
Marc
how do u do?
noumbisi
hiiii
yasir
Hi, good evening. please can someone help me emphasized more on that religion?
Nath Reply
As sociologist we endorse anything that supports the continuity of society and harmonize the society and its elements is good... We don't really worry about the authenticity of its origin... If you have studies the sociological perspectives you will know that there are different views on religion..
look what each classical theorist have said about religion...
what is a religion
Zahid Reply
ll grade sociology ga notes h k
Sunil
Religion involve those things which surpasses the limit of our knowledge.
shoaib
religion is believe it one God
DAVE
What is Social Psychology? and why social psychology?
WILLIAM Reply
learn about the people and understand there need to live in society what there basic need and learning institutions
Ghulammurtaza
Social Psychology deals with the study of individual as part of a group or communty and how they affect each other.
Sadiq
behavior study of humans are there institutions are social psychology but if they are study about society that means the learn about there living structure
Ghulammurtaza
social psychology means it formed after combined sociology and psychology and itis new descipline.
salem
social psychology study behavior reference society
Rajesh
what is sociology?
Omeneke Reply
It's a field of study which studies about human Society... (to make you more clear... the psychology studies single individual where as sociology studies group of individual who forms society)
sociology is study of socity
Sadia
not only study but it study with scientific method and sociological approach
Rajesh
rite #rajesh sosa
Sadia
thanks
Rajesh
hey help me defining sociological guru's ideas
luther
what is culture
Nandala Reply
what is urbanisation
Nandala
What are the weaknesses of the conflict theory
Skeazo Reply

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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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