The pleasures of getting into the music: absorption, and its role in the aesthetic appreciation of music

  • Whereas many writers across all times and cultures have written about the potential aesthetic effects of music experiences which could be labeled as absorption, only limited empirical research has been done on the state aspects of this fascinating aspect of human involvement. What is more, there are still few tested models which explain how people can be absorbed by a piece of music as well as continue to be third-person observers monitoring and even reflecting on that same musical experience. Adopting a dual process approach – in which human thinking, emotion, and routes to appraisal are defined in terms of an interplay between two distinct systems of psychological processing – this thesis aimed to examine a) the cognitive mechanisms underlying the paradox of losing oneself in the music on the one hand, and meta-awareness on the other, b) its corresponding psychophenomenological profile(s) when listening intentionally to self-chosen music, and c) the different potential of state and trait aspects of absorption and meta-awareness in predicting three indicators of the aesthetic response to music: enjoyment, lasting impression, and behavioral intention. To this end, a quantitative empirical research method (state and trait questionnaires) was employed in a series of online surveys, using self-selected music as well as pre-determined music by the researcher as stimulus, together approaching a naturalistic listening setting.Aesthetic absorption was confirmed to be structured– in terms of dual process terminology – by intuitive type I and reflective type II processing. Two forms of music absorption were empirically identified and labeled as zoning in and tuning in. These experience profiles distinguished themselves significantly in terms of the degree in which a music listener maintained his or her meta-awareness, assessed via volitional control, rationality, self-awareness, and memory of the previous event. The overall pattern of consciousness parameters of both types of absorbed listening are suggestive of a unique interchanging between brain networks for intuitive processing and areas related to self-reference, -awareness and -control. The distinction between zoning in and tuning in was further found to be strongly related to the quality of affective state. These emotions modulate the experiential intensity of absorption, suggesting this experience to be an affect-biased type of attention. Based on the feelings-as-information theory, postulating that positive emotions are differently processed than negatively-tinted types of emotions, it was concluded that music-induced rumination ‘competes’ with higher-order functions relevant to meta-awareness. From this perspective, the two found absorption types match conceptually with the positively-tinged self-reflection and negatively-tinged self-rumination as two different types of self-focused introspection. It was also shown that being absorbed by music is a continuous phenomenon; a matter of ‘more-or-less’ involvement rather than a ‘unique state of mind’. Consequently, determining ‘music absorbers’ is a matter of imprecise estimation rather than being marked by a clear observable onset. Finally, as expected, an absorbed state of mind - operationalized here as a multidimensional bifactor model – completely mediated the effect of trait absorption, and was a good predictor for enjoyment, lasting impression, and behavioral intention. Whereas absorption and enjoyment were found to have a mutual positive effect on each other, absorption and meta-awareness were found to be unrelated to each other. Also, meta-awareness contributed little to aesthetic appreciation. The results confirm the need for a dynamic approach to the relationship between state absorption and enjoyment; the one-directional approach common in many research reports does not seem to fully capture the relationship between them. Taken together, this dissertation shows the potential of including the interplay between the trait and state constructs of absorption and meta-awareness in order to better understand the mechanisms underlying aesthetic experiences with music. The present work demonstrated that these two constructs should not be conflated. Moreover, this thesis underlined the power of absorption not only to evoke short-lived pleasurable experiences, but also to stimulate longlasting impressions. Knowing more about absorbed listening and its potential effects, learning to consciously recognize it as it happens, and perhaps regulate and maintain its positive consequences (i.e., savoring), could further improve the way we engage ourselves with music or other aesthetic objects. Only then could we engage in behavior that we’re sure would make us happy rather than seeking out experiences which we hope would make us happy.

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Author:Thijs P. Vroegh
Referee:Melanie Wald-Fuhrmann, Frank Hakemulder, Ulrich Ott
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Date of Publication (online):2018/12/18
Year of first Publication:2018
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Granting Institution:Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität
Date of final exam:2018/07/09
Release Date:2018/12/20
Page Number:322
Institutes:Sprach- und Kulturwissenschaften / Kulturwissenschaften
Dewey Decimal Classification:7 Künste und Unterhaltung / 78 Musik / 780 Musik
Licence (German):License LogoArchivex. zur Lesesaalplatznutzung § 52b UrhG