The Dual Aspect Hypothesis: Emotional Quality and Intensity

22 March, 2021
In which I clarify that emotional quality and intensity are two separate aspects of music which are best explained separately.

The Dual Aspect Hypothesis/Meta-Hypothesis

The main purpose of this website is to advance and publish various hypotheses that I have developed about the nature, function and evolution of music.

Some of my hypotheses relate to specific aspects of music.

I have realised that there are two major aspects of music that my hypotheses relate to:

  1. The emotional quality of music
  2. The intensity of that emotional quality

That is, some of the time I am trying to explain why music has the different emotional qualities that it has, and what type of emotional qualities it can have.

And some of the time I am trying to explain what is responsible for the intensity of those emotional qualities.

The emotional quality aspect relates to assertions like: "This music feels happy", or "This music feels sad", or "This music has a feeling that we should all get up and go and do something that needs to be done". When music consists of a song with lyrics, we expect the lyrics to be consistent, in some manner, with the emotional quality of the music.

The intensity aspect relates to assertions like: "This music is strong", or "This music is good", or "This music affects everyone which is why it's a number one hit".

If you're trying to write commercially successful music, you almost don't care about what the emotional quality of music is – if it has the required intensity, then it's job done.

But if you're scoring a film, you will care quite a lot about the specific emotional quality of the musical items that you use to score the different parts of the film that need to be scored.

In recent articles such as What Are Emotions?, Music Creates A Feeling Of Salience and Music, and Other Things that have Meaning, I state hypotheses about the emotional quality of music, whereas in other recent articles such as Music Is Not A Positive Superstimulus – It's A Negative Superstimulus and Music Is A Superstimulus For The Perception Of Non-Spontaneous Non-Conversational Speech I am advancing a hypothesis to explain the intensity of the emotional quality of music.

Underlying this separation of hypotheses there is a deeper underlying hypothesis, which is:

In a sense this hypothesis is a meta-hypothesis, ie a hypothesis about hypotheses, because it asserts that it is both proper and correct to formulate separate hypotheses about these two separate aspects of music.

Evolutionary Timetable

If the emotional quality of music and the intensity of the emotional quality of music are separate aspects of music with distinct functions and mechanisms, then they may have evolved separately.

One would assume that the emotional quality of music had to evolve first, because the intensity is something applies to the emotional quality, and it doesn't make sense for the intensity to exist without it being the intensity of something.

This suggests that the emotional quality of music originally existed in a non-intense form.

My super-stimulus hypothesis states that features such as regular beat and melodic scales are part of the superstimulus effect that determines intensity. So assuming that emotional quality evolved prior to intensity, this implies that an original non-intense form of music did not have these features. In other words, the original form of music consisted of rhythm and melody which expressed an emotional quality, but the rhythm and melody did not have the features of regular beat and pitch scales which make music sound musical to the modern ear.

In as much as music currently has a biological purpose, this does relate to the intensity of the music – ie I have hypothesized that music allows the listener to experience emotions associated with hypothetical scenarios with full intensity.

An original non-intense form of music could not have served this purpose, so it must have served some other purpose.

A plausible hypothesis is that music originally was a form of communication, and that it enabled individuals to communicate "emotional quality" to one or more other individuals in the same social group.

I will elaborate on this hypothesis further in a later article.