People rate identical recordings of the same piece of music differently depending on who they are told the musicians are, research by Goldsmiths, University of London has shown.
The Goldsmiths experiment involved 72 students being played the same live recording of Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock three times and the same recording of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 three times. Before each listening session, participants were given information attributing the recordings to three Elvis impersonators or three conductors of varying levels of prestige. They were then asked to evaluate the performances they had heard.
A report of the results is published in the journal Music Perception.
Overall 75% of participants believed that they had heard different musical performances. Whether the music was pop or classical listeners consistently rated the same recording better if told it was from a ‘high’ prestige performer than a ‘medium’ or ‘low’ prestige one.
The experiment also showed that people with neurotic personality traits were more likely to believe they were listening to different recordings. They were also more easily influenced into altering their ratings depending on what they were told about the status of the performers.
The research gives fresh insight into ‘The Repeated Recording Illusion’: a phenomenon first demonstrated in 1977 by a German radio broadcast in which listeners were asked to give their opinion on three different performances of a piece of classical music. Despite the same recording being played three times, in the 1977 experiment over 80% of callers reported differences in the recordings.
Dr Daniel Müllensiefen, Reader in Psychology at Goldsmiths and co-author, said: “We wanted to know why some people are more susceptible to believing the illusion that the identical recordings they are hearing are different performances than others. We found that not only are the majority of people fooled by the illusion but, surprisingly, listeners who are trained musicians aren’t any more or less likely to be fooled than anyone else.”
Manuel Anglada-Tort, who conducted the research as part of his MSc in Music, Mind & Brain at Goldsmiths and is first author, said: “It turns out that neuroticism – being anxious, pessimistic, shy, fearful, vulnerable and emotionally unstable – is the most important factor related to being taken in by the illusion.
“What this experiment also shows is just how easy it is to manipulate people’s perceptions of a musical recording through external factors, such as a musician’s status. So the next time you really like a song you should stop and think: do I like it because the music is good or because the singer is good-looking and famous?”
A report of the research, entitlted 'The Repeated Recording Illusion: The Effects of Extrinsic and Individual Difference Factors on Musical Judgments', is published in the September edition of the journal Music Perception.