Jenefer Robinson On Listening With Emotion

Jenefer Robinson holds that feeling an emotion is a process which begins with “an affective, non-cognitive evaluation that causes autonomic and motor changes and is succeeded by cognitive monitoring” (Deeper than Reason, 58-59). Moreover, in chapter 12 of Deeper Than Reason, Robinson discusses this position in light of the results of Krumhansl’s experiment. In doing so, Robinson shows that the emotional responses an individual feels when listening to music are genuine.

Krumhansl’s experiment tested human’s emotional responses to music. In Krumhansl’s experiment, some participants (Participant X and Participant Y) reported that they felt fear while listening to Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain and/or the “Mars, the bringer of war” section of Holst’s ‘The Planets’. According to Jenefer Robinson, in order for Participant X and Participant Y to genuinely have felt fear, they had to undergo a very specific process. The first step of this process is undergoing physiological changes. These physiological changes are changes in “facial expression, motor activity, and action tendencies” (Deeper Than Reason, 394). Moreover, these “physiological changes are experienced as happiness, sadness, serenity, or restlessness” (Deeper Than Reason, 394). This shows that these physiological changes correlate with mood. The music put Participant X and Participant Y in a certain mood, which, as a result, made them disposed to think of the world in certain, specific ways. The mood itself was not an emotion, however. Rather, in these moods, Participant X and Participant Y were susceptible to interpret events in a certain way. It was via this mood that was created by the music that Participant X and Participant Y progressed to the emotional state fear. Progressing to the emotional state fear is the second step in Robinson’s process. When this occurred, Participant X and Participant Y went above and beyond the mood. They went above and beyond the mood, because their world had been “regestaled” (Deeper Than Reason, 394). This means Participant X and Participant Y were inclined to view the world according to the mood in which they found themselves. In doing so, Participant X and Participant Y made the leap from being in a specific mood to the emotional feeling of anger via a “self-fulfilling prophecy” (Deeper Than Reason, 402). This demonstrates that Participant X and Participant Y rationalized their emotions in a way that justified their feeling of fear. This is the third and final step of Robinson’s process. Often times, this is done with the help of one’s past experiences with the same mood they are presently feeling. It is through this process and only after this process had occurred that Robinson would say that Participant X and Participant Y felt fear.

The results of Krumhansl’s experiment also suggests that tension is associated with fear. Krumhansl’s experiment showed that tension is loosely associated with both happiness and sadness. Thus, tension is a “multivalent quality” (Deeper Than Reason, 371), which means it is ultimately influenced by the overall, predominant emotion one is feeling (happy, sad, afraid). In the case of Participant X and Participant Y, their feeling of tension was influenced by the overall, predominant emotional response to the music being listened to (i.e. the emotion fear). Thus, Participant X and Participant Y’s feeling of tension turned into fear. If the overall, predominant emotional response to the music being listened to had been one of happiness, then Participant X and Participant Y’s feeling of tension would have turned to happiness instead of fear. This demonstrates how tension (a mood/frame of mind) can become either happy, sad, or fear (an emotion). Tension can become either happy, sad, or fear depending on the overall, predominant emotional response of the music being listened to. And as shown in the previous paragraph, the emotional response depends on past experiences. All of this shows how an underlying mood/state of mind affects emotions.

As a result of showing how an underlying mood/mental state affects emotions, a critical opponent of Robinson’s view might counter the claim that Participant X and Participant Y’s self-descriptions (“I felt fear”) were misattributions because the mood/mental states from which this emotion derived can be manipulated. This critic might cite Schachter’s experiment as evidence to support his or her argument. In Schachter’s experiment, people were told that they were going to test a new drug’s impact on vision. Yet, unbeknownst to the test subjects, they were slipped some epinephrine instead of the new drug. After the epinephrine had been injected, the test subjects were told to describe how they felt. Since epinephrine causes an adrenaline rush, which is similar to the feeling of being tense, which is the optimal condition for anger, the test subjects’ responses of how they felt skewed towards the angry side. When the test subjects were questioned why they felt anger, they basically made up a reason. The test subjects made up a reason that justified why they were feeling angry. What these test subjects did not know was that their claim to feel anger was chemically induced via the epinephrine. This adrenaline rush was actually the cause of the test subject’s feeling of tension, which was actually the cause of the test subject’s anger. Their source of anger was not whatever bogus reason they made up. This suggests that the mood these test subjects were in greatly impacted their emotions. Even to the point where an individual may fabricate a story in order to justify their self-attribution. Thus, Schachter’s experiment demonstrates that altering someone’s mood by doing something as simple as giving them an adrenaline rush, one can increase the odds that the individual will have a specific emotion. Thus, Schachter experiment confirms Robinson’s view that emotions are highly suggestible to the physiological state in which an individual finds him or herself. However, Schachter’s experiment points out that an individual’s underlying mood/state of mind can be manipulated. As a result, Schachter’s experiment suggests that the self-descriptions of Participant X and Participant Y could have been misattributions because the mood/state of mind from which their emotions derived could have been manipulated from listening to the music.

Another reason to say Participant X and Participant Y’s self-descriptions were misattributions is simply to deny that the “fear” they claimed to have felt was not actually genuine fear. One might assert that Participant X and Participant Y were doing something akin to playing a game of “make-believe” (Pictures and Make-Believe, 287). Games of make-believe are imaginary games where ‘such and such’ is the case. In this scenario, Participant X and Participant Y were playing a game of make-believe in which they were imagining themselves in a scenario where something frightening was occurring. Specifically, as Robinson puts it: “The Holst can be heard as expressing the fear of someone who contemplates the fearsome planet, Mars, ‘The Bringer of War’, and the Mussorgsky can be heard as expressing the fear of a witness to the witches on the bare mountain” (Deeper Than Reason, 374). Thus, when Participant X and Participant Y reported that they felt fear while listening to Mussorgasky’s Night on Bald Mountain or the “Mars, the bringer of war” section of Holst’s ‘The Planets’, it was because they were playing a game of make-believe in which they were taking on the role of a person who was witnessing fearsome events, and thus “respond sympathetically with fear to these pieces” (Deeper Than Reason, 375). By imagining themselves in a make-believe scenario that was the result of listening to the music, Participant X and Participant Y described themselves as feeling fear. Yet this feeling of fear was not genuine fear; rather, it was, as Kendall Walton would put it: “quasi-fear” (Fearing Fictions, 6). This means that only under the pretense of the song to which Participant X and Participant Y were listening, they felt fear. This fear, which is quasi-fear, is different that actual fear because it only occurs under a very specific pretense. The pretense that one is imagining him or herself in a scenario where he or she was taking on the role of a person who was witnessing the fearsome events going on in the songs. Actual fear involves a genuine belief that one is in danger. Clearly, when listening to a particular song, neither Participant X nor Participant Y was in actual danger. Thus, they are not in actual fear; rather, their “fear” is quasi-fear. Thus, Participant X and Participant Y’s self-descriptions are misattributed.

I must admit, it is not entirely clear to me how these two arguments are supposed to show that Participant X and Participant Y’s self-descriptions were misattributed, and thus, serve as a counter-argument to Robinson’s position. Rather, it seems as if these counter-arguments highlight the importance of context when dealing with emotional responses. These counter-arguments do not actually disprove Robinson’s position; they exemplify how context plays a key role in the emotion(s) an individual is feeling. However, at no point does this show how the need of contextualization makes these emotions any less real. Additionally, it does not follow that these emotions are solely the product of moods/mental states that are capable of being manipulated. Nor does it follow that these emotions are quasi-emotions. Incidentally, this is basically the position Robinson takes in support of her original conclusion that Participant X and Participant Y did actually feel genuine fear. Robinson also suggests that emotional responses may be the result of past experiences. Meaning, Participant X and Participant Y associated their moods when listening to the songs with moods they were in during past experiences in which they felt fear.

Objectors will point out that the state of mind/moods Participant X and Participant Y find themselves in (the tense feeling) can be manipulated, thus, the validity of the emotion (fear) that results from this state of mind/moods is questionable. However, the burden of proof rests with these objectors to prove that this fear is not real. At best, all the objectors have done is demonstrated that the starting-point for emotions (moods) can be manipulated. However, this does not successfully prove that these emotions were any less real than emotions that result from a non-manipulated starting point. One has no reason to question whether or not another individual is afraid just because the starting point of this emotion has been manipulated. Not to mention the fact that emotions are subjective, and thus, the only person who is in the position to say whether the emotions he or she is feeling is the person who is experiencing the emotion.

As a result of not being able to prove that the emotion (fear) that Participant X and Participant Y experienced was any less real due to the emotion’s manipulated origins, objectors are forced to assert that the fear Participant X and Participant Y experienced was quasi-fear. In this sense, the objectors have already conceded it is impossible to disprove the validity of another individual’s emotion. So their final move is to say this fear is similar to genuine fear, but it is not quite genuine fear — it is quasi-fear. Again, the burden of proof rests with these objectors to prove that the fear Participant X and Participant Y felt was quasi-fear. For many of the same aforementioned reasons, this is an impossible feat to accomplish. The objectors are faced with the insurmountable task of proving that another individual’s personal emotions were not genuine emotions. Without being that individual, there is no definitive way to disprove the emotion someone else is feeling. All this argument does is demonstrate how an individual can feel fear even though he or she is not in immediate danger. However, it does not follow that this feeling of fear is any less genuine than if said individual really was in immediate danger. An individual can be in immediate danger, yet not feel any fear because he or she is totally oblivious to the immediate danger. Granted, the fear one feels when perceiving immediate danger is stronger than when an individual is playing a game of make-believe, but this does not mean the fear that is felt while playing a game of make-believe is any less genuine. This shows that using immediate danger as the definition for genuine fear does not always work. Furthermore, the objector has already conceded that the feeling this individual is fear. Making up a word by adding the suffix ‘quasi’ does not make the fear any less genuine, nor does it make a new sub-category of fear. If an individual says he or she is in fear, then no one else has the right or ability to say that this individual is not actually in fear.

As previously stated, Robinson believes that the participants who reported that they felt fear while listening to Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain or the “Mars, the bringer of war” section of Holst’s ‘The Planets’ actually felt fear because they went through a very specific process. These listeners underwent physiological changes, which correlated with moods they previously associated with feeling fear. Once these moods had been established, the listeners were inclined to view the world according to these moods. Then, with the help of Participant X and Participant Y’s past experiences and their frames of mind/moods, Participant X and Participant Y made the leap from being in a specific mood to the emotional feeling of anger via a “self-fulfilling prophecy” (Deeper Than Reason, 402). Participant X and Participant Y rationalized their emotions in order to justify their feelings of fear via past experiences of being in the same mood/state of mind. It is through this process and only after this process had occurred that Robinson would say Participant X and Participant Y felt fear. Given that this process happened with Participant X and Participant Y, one has reason to believe that Participant X and Participant Y felt genuine fear when they listened to the music. If one chooses to argue that Participant X and Participant Y were lying, then the burden of proof rests with that individual to prove they were lying. However, given Robinson’s strict requirements for an individual to experience an emotion, Participant X and Participant Y’s declarative self-descriptions (“I felt fear”), and by showing that the existing counter-arguments are questionable, at best, one has no reason to believe Participant X and Participant Y were lying. Thus, proving that Participant X and Participant Y were lying, or at least wrong, about their emotions seems to be an impossible task. Thus, it follows that the fear Participant X and Participant Y felt when listening to Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain and/or the “Mars, the bringer of war” section of Holst’s ‘The Planets’ was actually genuine fear and not quasi-fear. This applies to all emotional responses to music; the emotional responses an individual feels when listening to music are genuine emotions, not quasi-emotions.

Works Cited

Robinson, Jenefer. “Deeper than Reason: Emotion and Its Role in Literature, Music, and Art – Oxford Scholarship.” Deeper than ReasonEmotion and Its Role in Literature, Music, and Art – Oxford Scholarship. N.p., 25 Nov. 2016. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.

Walton, Kendall L. (1978). Fearing fictions. _Journal of Philosophy_ 75 (1):5-27.

Walton, Kendall L. (1973). Pictures and make-believe. _Philosophical Review_ 82 (3):283-319.

You can access Robinson’s full book here.

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