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Music and Empathy: Some Insights from Phenomenological Research

Gæsteforelæsning ved AIAS-COFUND Fellow Jessica Dean Wiskus

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Thursday 9 November 2017,  at 16:15 - 18:00

While “musicking” is an activity undertaken in as many different styles as there are cultures, one important characteristic of musical experience (across its multiple realizations) is its capacity to elicit feeling – even a sense of empathy. But how? Is it because, in listening to music, I am able to comprehend that its complex structure was composed by another human being? This would be a theory related to the intellect (which could be cultivated to appreciate the “genius” of the composer). Or is it because, in listening to music, I come under the influence of a set of specific physiological responses? This would be a theory based on physical imitation (which could be used to induce emotion and empathy, e.g. through a phenomenon like entrainment).


This presentation outlines a third approach, in contrast to the “way of the intellect” and the “way of the body.” It applies recent research in phenomenology to examine, with respect to music, the relation between temporal structure and the eliciting of emotion and empathy.