In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Chia-Jung Tsay showed musicians clips from classical music competitions. She asked them to guess the winners. Different musicians were given different kinds of clips: audio recordings… videos with sound… and videos with no sound!
They did best when they saw videos with no sound.
It’s not that the winners were good-looking. It’s that they moved in expressive ways.
This reminds me of how people are willing to pay more for wines whose names are hard to pronounce… or how you can predict who will win an election by watching videos of the candidates—with the sound off.
I think there’s something important about these results. They’re a bit depressing: if our cognitive apparatus is so deeply flawed, maybe we’re doomed. But maybe it’s not so bad. Maybe we just tend to define the point of various activities too narrowly!
We go to a concert, not just to listen to music, but to watch the performer. We drink a wine, not just to taste it in our mouth, but to bask in the sense of being sophisticated. We judge a candidate, not just by what they say, but by how they say it.
You can see the paper here:
• Chia-Jung Tsay, Sight over sound in the judgment of music performance, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 19 August 2013.
You can hear (or see) a nice summary and discussion here:
• Shankar Vedantam, How to win that music competition? Send a video, National Public Radio, 20 August 2013.