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Musical Preference May Rely More On Visuals Than Sound, Study Finds

Written by Sarah Bella on August 20, 2013

Harvard graduate student Chia-Jung Tsay has conducted research that found participants were more likely to identify the winners of classical music competitions by watching silent footage than listening to audio of the performances.

The study, which tested both highly-trained musicians and average joes, raises questions about whether it’s just how well music is played that leads to winning contests. Tsay told The Harvard Gazette that it was a counterintuitive finding that’s evoked some interesting reactions from musicians:

“What this suggests is that there may be a way that visual information is prioritized over information from other modalities. In this case, it suggests that the visual trumps the audio, even in a setting where audio information should matter much more.”

Tsay herself is a classical musician, as well as having earned Ph.Ds in both organisational behavior and music. She conducted seven different experiments for the study, finding that the results stayed the same even in high-level contests with professional musicians as judges:

“I wouldn’t expect musical novices to be able to use auditory information the same way a trained musician with 20 years of experience would, but when I ran the studies with professional musicians — people who perform as part of orchestras, or who teach at music conservatories — and I saw the same result, that was when I realized that regardless of the amount of experience, people still seem to rely on visual information.”

Tsay acknowledged that visual elements of performance like engagement, passion, and energy strike a chord with viewers, making a difference when there are only tiny differences in technical skills.

(via The Harvard Gazette)

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