Washington: Whenever we hear music, our emotions colour the tune we hear depending on how the melodies make us feel.
Whether we're listening to Bach or the blues, our brains are wired to make music-colour connections, according to new research from the University of California, Berkeley.
For instance, Mozart's jaunty Flute Concerto No 1 is most often associated with bright yellow and orange, whereas his dour Requiem is more likely to be linked to dark, bluish gray.
Moreover, people in both the US and Mexico linked the same pieces of classical orchestral music with the same colours.
This suggests that humans share a common emotional palette — when it comes to music and colour — that appears to be intuitive and can cross cultural barriers, researchers said.
"The results were remarkably strong and consistent across individuals and cultures and clearly pointed to the powerful role that emotions play in how the human brain maps from hearing music to seeing colours," said UC Berkeley vision scientist Stephen Palmer, lead author of a paper.
Using a 37-colour palette, the study found that people tend to pair faster-paced music in a major key with lighter, more vivid, yellow colours, whereas slower-paced music in a minor key is more likely to be teamed up with darker, grayer, bluer colours.
"Surprisingly, we can predict with 95 per cent accuracy how happy or sad the colours people pick will be based on how happy or sad the music is that they are listening to," said Palmer.
The findings may have implications for creative therapies, advertising and even music player gadgetry.
They may also provide insight into synesthesia, a neurological condition in which the stimulation of one perceptual pathway, such as hearing music, leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a different perceptual pathway, such as seeing colours.
In the first experiment, participants were asked to pick five of the 37 colours that best matched the music to which they were listening. The palette consisted of vivid, light, medium, and dark shades of red, orange, yellow, green, yellow-green, green, blue-green, blue, and purple.
Participants consistently picked bright, vivid, warm colours to go with upbeat music and dark, dull, cool colours to match the more tearful or somber pieces. Separately, they rated each piece of music on a scale of happy to sad, strong to weak, lively to dreary and angry to calm.
Two subsequent experiments studying music-to-face and face-to-colour associations supported the researchers' hypothesis that "common emotions are responsible for music-to-colour associations," said Karen Schloss, co-author of the paper.