Measuring Emotion at the Boston Symphony Orchestra

In a first-of-its-kind experiment, a team of scientists led by Daniel Levitin, Steve McAdams, and Teresa Marrin Nakra attached electrophysiological sensors to conductor Keith Lockhart, 5 members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and 15 audience members, to measure their brain activity and emotional reactions during a live concert in Boston's Symphony Hall in April 2006. 35 additional audience members adjusted a slider box in real time to indicate their experience of emotion during the concert, which featured four pieces by Mozart and two by Robert Kapilow. A remote audience was similarly wired up in June 2006 at McGill's Tanna Schulich Hall, and experienced a high quality video and audio recording of the concert.

The experiment was designed to address the following research questions:

1) To track the communication of emotion over time from the conductor, to the musicians, and finally to the audience.

2) To quantify differences in arousal and impact between being at a live concert and seeing a broadcast of one.

3) To characterize and quantify any differences in emotional levels and type of emotion experienced from the conductor to the musicians and the musicians to the audience.

The project was generously supported by Delsys, Thought Technologies, Body Media, and by grants from VRQ, CFI and SSHRC.


Project Leads

Dr. Teresa Marrin Nakra, Artistic Director, Immersion Music Inc.

Asst. Professor of Music, The College of New Jersey

Dr. Dan Levitin, Associate Professor of Psychology, McGill University

            Bell Chair in the Psychology of Electronic Communication

Dr. Stephen McAdams, Professor of Music and Canada Research Chair, McGill University

            Director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music, Media & Technology


Boston Symphony Orchestra Collaborators:

Myran Parker-Brass, Director, BSO Office of Education and Community Outreach

Leslie Wu Foley, Assistant Director


Technical Contributions:

Dr. David Andre, BodyMedia Inc.
Gianluca DeLuca, Delsys Inc.
Douglas Dione
Dr. Yuri Ivanov
Jahangir Nakra, Nakra Labs Inc.

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