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Narratives imagined in response to instrumental music reveal culture-bounded intersubjectivity

Jan 24, 2022
Narratives imagined in response to instrumental music reveal culture-bounded intersubjectivity

Are we all imagining the same thing when we listen to music, or are our experiences hopelessly subjective? This research analyzes the similarity of responses from 622 participants in three locations on a highly unconstrained task: free-response descriptions of the stories they imagined while listening to instrumental music. Strikingly, participants in two separate locations that share an overarching culture imagine highly similar narratives to individual excerpts. But these similarity patterns do not extend to narratives imagined by participants in a third location with a distinct culture. This work shows that music—often considered an “abstract stimulus”—can trigger shared stories in listeners’ minds but that this intersubjectivity depends on a shared underlying culture.