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Soundings: Emotional transfer – does it exist?

Emotional transfer – does it exist?

Transferable skills have been in the news recently. Volunteers being tested for the BBC TV science programme Bang Goes the Theory got to play computer games based on so-called ‘brain training’ activities like those of the Nintendo Dr Kawashima games. At least some of them did – the others had to perform control tasks but with no specific cognitive or memory skills involved. The peer-reviewed results assert that while many subjects got better at the specific tasks involved, there was no evidence of general skill transfer. In other words, the brain training games did not improve cognitive ability in general.

Leaving aside the begged question of what kinds of activities might in fact improve cognitive abilities, Sound Strategies detected a possibly important parallel between the implied efficacy of brain training and the implied transfer of emotional engagement from, say, a music track to a featured brand. This being the basis of much of the market research (and indeed the music) business’s enthusiasm for music, one has to wonder whether emotional connection, like cognitive ability, can really be transferred in such specific circumstances.

The bottom line seems to be a logical non sequitur. We know that music has the power to induce deep emotional touch points. We also know that its symbolic power to evoke moods and feelings can work even out of its original context or when aligned with completely unrelated material.

But no-one so far seems to have proved that emotional identity, whether induced or evoked by music, can actually be transferred from a powerful sound track to a consumer product. There might indeed be a sort of ‘basking in reflected glory’ effect as the product is bathed in a wash of powerful music. Though just as often the obverse can happen, and the association with a mundane consumer item can ruin one’s previous emotional relationship with a well loved piece of music.

But does this remain if the two elements are separated? Can we ‘auralise’ as well as visualise a favourite chocolate bar? And if so, does the aural experience become part of the eating experience? The jury is still out.

Andrew Peggie

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