Though the Perception of Musical Tension has recently received considerable attention, the effect of interactions among auditory parameters on perceived tension has hardly been examined systematically. In this study, 132 participants (60 with music training) listened to short melodic sequences that combined manipulations of pitch direction, pitch register, loudness change, and tempo change, and rated in each sequence the overall tension level, as well as the direction of tension change (increasing or decreasing). For overall tension ratings, repeated measures ANOVAs showed main effects of loudness change, pitch direction, and pitch register (lower more tense), but not of tempo change. Importantly, several highly significant interactions among musical parameters (e.g., tempo and loudness, contour and loudness, tempo, contour, and register) were revealed. Tension change ratings were significantly affected by changes in loudness and tempo; register and contour elicited no main effect on tension change ratings, but interacted significantly. Results indicated that the mutual effect of auditory parameters on perceived tension is often strongly interactive, rather than additive. Increased loudness and low pitch register emerged as powerful determinants of perceived tension, often modulating the effects of pitch contour and tempo. We discuss results in light of an ecological model, in which perceived musical tension is affected by auditory cues for impending threat.
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