Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Listening to Music Reduces Eye Movements

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Listening to Music Reduces Eye Movements

Article excerpt

Published online: 4 October 2014

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract Listening to music can change the way that people visually experience the environment, probably as a result of an inwardly directed shift of attention. We investigated whether this attentional shift can be demonstrated by reduced eye movement activity, and if so, whether that reduction depends on absorption. Participants listened to their preferred music, to unknown neutral music, or to no music while viewing a visual stimulus (a picture or a film clip). Preference and absorption were significantly higher for the preferred music than for the unknown music. Participants exhibited longer fixations, fewer saccades, and more blinks when they listened to music than when they sat in silence. However, no differences emerged between the preferred music condition and the neutral music condition. Thus, music significantly reduces eye movement activity, but an attentional shift from the outer to the inner world (i.e., to the emotions and memories evoked by the music) emerged as only one potential explanation. Other explanations, such as a shift of attention from visual to auditory input, are discussed.

Keywords Eye movements . Music . Music preference . Absorption . Attention

The effects of music listening on physiological, emotional, and behavioral variables have been receiving increasing attention in psychological research. Listening to music is a ubiquitous everyday behavior that requires many of the listener's psychophysio logical resources (see, e.g., North & Hargreaves, 2008; Zatorre & Peretz, 2001). People in the Western world listen to music for very many different reasons, the most common being self-awareness and the regulation of mood and arousal (see Schäfer, Sedlmeier, Städtler, & Huron, 2013). Also, some effects of music listening unfold rather unconsciously. One of the most intriguing of these effects is alteration of the processing of sensory information, such as visual (spatial) and temporal magnitudes. Many studies have demonstrated that music can change the way that listeners experience space and time, including both experimental investigations (e.g., Bailey & Areni, 2006; Droit-Volet, Bigand, Ramos, & Bueno, 2010; Kellaris & Mantel, 1996; Lopez & Malhotra, 1991) and subjective reports collected with interviews (e.g., Fachner, 2011a; Gabrielsson, 2001, 2011; Herbert, 2011, 2013). Regarding the representation of time, music typically shortens the estimated length of temporal durations-an effect that is even more pronounced when the listener likes the music used in the study (see Schäfer, Fachner, & Smukalla, 2013, for an overview). In addition, subjective reports suggest that musical experiences can cause feelings of timelessness or time dilation. Regarding the representation of visual information, data from subjective reports have shown that music can trigger experiences such as spatial mental images or "space ceasing to exist" (e.g., BeckerBlease, 2004; Gabrielsson & Lindström Wik, 2003; Gromko, 2004; Herbert, 2011, 2013; Tart, 1971).

Some scholars have tried to explain these effects by arguing that music distracts attention from the processing of sensory information. Attention is instead directed to certain thoughts, memories, and emotions that are elicited by the music. In other words, music causes attention to turn away from the environment (exogenous stimuli) and toward inward experiences (endogenous stimuli; Fachner, 2011b; Herbert, 2011, 2013). That shift in attention should be more pronounced, the more captivating the music and the more absorbed the listener, such as when listening to strongly preferred music. Although there is general agreement about the role of attention in the effects of music on the representation of time-specifically, that music distracts attention away from the processing of time-there is an obvious lack of research about the role of attention in the effects of music on the processing of visual information (for a summary, see Schäfer, Fachner, & Smukalla, 2013). …

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