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Oxford Seminar in the Psychology of Music: Renee Timmers (University of Sheffield)

March 3 @ 4:56 pm - 6:26 pm


Renee Timmers, A Probabilistic Analysis of Emotion and Meaning in Music

Please sign up here https://oxford.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/ospom-renee-timmers


Perception of emotion and meaning in music is to a large extent probabilistic rather than deterministic. Certain properties of music may increase the likelihood that a particular emotion is perceived over another or a particular imagery or association is evoked. What emotion or imagery is perceived also depends on contextual factors such as the apriori probability of emotions, listeners’ sensitivities and biases, and the distinctiveness of the properties within the musical context. In this presentation, I will explore the use of Bayes’ rule to model the perception of emotion and meaning, and to capture the influence of these contextually shaping factors.

Considering emotion perception according to Bayes’ rule, the posterior probability of perceiving an emotion given a musical property M is equal to the likelihood of the observation of the musical property if the hypothesis of that emotion was true, times the prior probability of that emotion (in the context of competing emotions). To develop this method, measures of prior probability of emotions are required as well as probability estimates of musical properties in emotional expressions. Analogously, the posterior probability of multimodal imagery given musical property M is equal to the likelihood of that musical property in the context of the hypothesised multimodal phenomenon, additionally taking into account the prior probability of the phenomenon and the frequency of occurrence of the musical property across multimodal phenomena. Finally, probability calculations can be used to examine relationships between emotion and meaning in music: what is the posterior probability of an emotion given a multimodal association or conversely what is the probability of a given multimodal imagery given an emotion?

Data from existing research articles are used to get a proof of concept of these applications of Bayes’ rule to model perception of emotion and meaning in music. Future directions for research are discussed as well as benefits and limitations of the adoption of a Bayesian approach to music cognition.


Renee Timmers is Professor of Psychology of Music at The University of Sheffield, UK, where she directs the Music, Mind, Machine research centre. Her research uses interdisciplinary methods to investigate expression, emotion and wellbeing in and through music with a specific focus on music as a multisensory experience. She has served on the editorial board of several journals, including acting as Co-Editor of Empirical Musicology Review and Associate Editor of Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, & Brain. She is currently President of the European Society of the Cognitive Sciences of Music, in which capacity she promotes inclusive and climate friendly international knowledge dissemination. She edited The Routledge Companion to Music Cognition with Richard Ashley, and OUP’s Expressiveness in Music Performance: Empirical Approaches across Styles and Cultures with Dorottya Fabian and Emery Schubert. She has published over 40 articles in leading journals such as CognitionConsciousness & CognitionJournal of the Acoustical Society of America, and in music psychology specialist journals including Music PerceptionMusicae Scientiae and Journal of Music Therapy.

About the series:

The Faculty of Music at the University of Oxford is pleased to announce a new seminar series – the Oxford Seminar in the Psychology of Music (OSPoM) – convened by Eric Clarke. Details of the first two seminars are provided below. Enjoying a position at a neglected part of the clock, seminars will start at 4.56pm GMT, and will last for 90 minutes – 45 minutes presentation followed by 45 minutes of discussion. These seminars are open to all. Anyone interested in attending should sign up using the form on the event page. You will then be emailed the Zoom link on the day of the Seminar.


March 3
4:56 pm - 6:26 pm
Event Category:


Faculty of Music
01865 (2)76133