Can we measure an emotional response to music?
This was the ultimate question on my short list of impossible measurement challenges but it turns out to be one of the easiest to actually do, though we cannot employ audio analyzing equipment to do it.
Modern science offers methods to measure emotional responses biometrically. Tools such as heart rate monitors, skin conductance sensors, and EEG (electroencephalography) can provide data on physiological reactions to music, which are often directly tied to emotional states. For instance, an increase in heart rate or skin conductivity might indicate excitement or emotional arousal, while EEG patterns can suggest states of relaxation or engagement.
But, it gets even better. Techniques like fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography) scans can visualize areas of brain activity in response to music. These methods have revealed that music activates brain regions associated with emotions, reward, and pleasure, such as the amygdala, hippocampus, and nucleus accumbens.
So, unlike the posts of the past few days, this is an area we can "prove" how a sound system increases or decreases our emotional response to music. I mean, theoretically, we could hook all this fancy EEG stuff up to ourselves, sit in front of a stereo system, and record differences in our emotional response as we change cables.
As silly as this might sound, there might just be some merit to it until you look at the bigger picture.
We all react differently to different music. The emotional response to music is influenced by personal memories, cultural background, and even our mood.
So, as we move on to other topics, here's food for thought.
Do measurements matter?
Well, it depends on how who you are. To an engineer, measurements of what we can see are critical. Without those measurements there would be little to no forward progress in the HiFi arts.
To you the listener? I am not so sure. Quantitative metrics are certainly valuable when they exceed the standards of what is commonly agreed to be audible. But beyond that? Can we hear the difference between 0.001% THD and 0.0001% THD? The measurement wonks would say no. The subjectivists would say yes.
I would say both are conditionally right.