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Preference for Harmony: A Preference for Structural Simplicity, Familiarity, or Both?

Preference for Harmony: A Preference for Structural Simplicity, Familiarity, or Both?

Name:Estelle Sijia, Song

School/Affiliation:University at Albany, State University of New York

Co-Authors:Douglas Kowalewski, Ronald Friedman

Virtual or In-person:Virtual


In a major contribution to empirical aesthetics, Palmer and Griscom (2013) discovered individual differences in “preference for harmony” (PfH) in individuals’ responses to musical and color stimuli. They found that PfH is consistent across different perceptual domains and proposed that individuals with higher PfH have an inherent preference for stimuli that are easier to process due to their structural simplicity. However, the familiarity of a stimulus can also enhance its processing ease.
In this study, we tested whether variations in PfH might also reflect the extent to which individuals prefer stimuli that are more familiar, irrespective of their structural features. PfH was assessed by computing for each participant the correlation between their ratings of how much they liked and how harmonious they found each of a set of Western musical chords. The preference for familiar stimuli was assessed by two behavioral measures, one based on individual differences in the strength of the mere-exposure effect and the other based on preferences for musical chords that appear more versus less frequently within Western musical corpora. Our results showed modest but reliable positive correlations between PfH and both measures, suggesting that PfH is at least weakly associated with the frequency of exposure to a stimulus, controlling for its structural qualities. These findings qualify the original interpretation of PfH by suggesting that it at least partially reflects a predilection for stimuli that are more familiar, not just structurally simpler, more regular and/or more harmonious.

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