Listeners frequently talk about music in terms of imagined stories, but little empirical research has investigated this tendency. In this study, 47 participants listened to eight 90-second musical excerpts—four of which featured programmatic music composed between 1857-1935 and were selected by music theorists to feature high contrast, and four of which featured Baroque and minimal music and were selected by music theorists to feature low contrast. After each one, they answered a variety of questions intended to assess their narrative engagement with the music. Brief assessments of personality and general listening tendencies were administered at the end of the session. Results showed qualified support for the notion that contrast makes people likelier to hear music in terms of narrative, with stylistic familiarity and enjoyment seeming to play a greater role. The most striking aspect of the results was the emergence of broad areas of consensus among the free descriptions of imagined narratives. People with high AIMS scores also tended to experience more narrative engagement with the music, as did people low in Extraversion and Conscientiousness.

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