Study: how classical performers look influences judgments about music

Posted on: March 11, 2014

“According to a new study, our ears may not be as reliable as we think. At classical performances at least, what we see apparently tells us more about the music we’re listening to than what we hear,” writes Paul Bisceglio in Friday’s (3/7) Pacific Standard (Santa Barbara, CA). “The study, conducted by Chia-Jung Tsay at University College London, tested people’s abilities to differentiate between the world’s best orchestras—including the London Symphony Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra—and less prestigious regional and university-based ensembles. Participants were shown short audio, video, and combined audio-video recordings of the two classes of performers, then asked to guess which groups were superior, in terms of world rankings…. Participants across the board were better at identifying the more accomplished groups by watching them, not by listening to them…. Both casual music listeners and professionally-trained music experts were tested…. While the experts fared slightly better than everyone else, statistically their rate of success still wasn’t any better than chance guessing…. [Tsay] speculates … that the degree to which physical performance influences our opinions of music  … is largely unappreciated … [but] ‘given that the production of music is necessarily mediated by physical behavior … visual information should contribute to and be predictive of outcomes.’ ”

Posted March 11, 2014