In and out of tune: The effects of musical (in)congruence on translation

Beatriz Naranjo and Ana María Rojo López

This study explores the potential effects of musical congruence and incongruence on translation quality and creativity. An experiment was carried out in which participants translated excerpts from happy and sad narratives while they listened to source-text congruent and incongruent soundtracks. Statistical analyses were performed to compare translation performance under three different sound conditions: musical congruence, musical incongruence, and silence. The results reveal a positive influence of congruent musical stimuli on translation creativity. Correlations are also found between levels of empathy and creativity, suggesting that an increase in translation creativity under the effects of music could be mediated by reported high levels of empathy under the musical congruence condition.

Publication history
Table of contents

The impact of music-listening on the human mind and body has been widely explored in various disciplines. Whether the presence of music can help or hamper performance in different types of tasks has been one of the core issues in the field of the psychology of music. Some scholars, such as Kämpfe, Sedlmeier, and Renkewitz (2011), have attempted to answer this question – without much success. Their analysis of existing findings on the effect of music on different activities points to inconsistent and contradictory outcomes, and they conclude that the global effect of background music may be null. Rather than envisaging the effect of music on task performance as an exclusive dichotomy (being either positive or negative), it may be more enlightening to explore the hows and wheres of the effect of music (i.e., what type of music and in what type of context). In fact, as Kämpfe, Sedlmeier, and Renkewitz (2011) concede, the “null effect” (14) of music is most likely to result from the heterogeneity of the variables analyzed and the lack of methodological systematicity found among all the studies they examined.

Full-text access is restricted to subscribers. Log in to obtain additional credentials. For subscription information see Subscription & Price. Direct PDF access to this article can be purchased through our e-platform.


Balch, William R., David M. Myers, and Christine Papotto
1999 “Dimensions of Mood in Mood-Dependent Memory.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition 25 (1): 70–83.Google Scholar
Bayer-Hohenwarter, Gerrit
2011 “ ‘Creative Shifts’ as a Means of Measuring and Promoting Translational Creativity.” Meta: Translators’ Journal 56 (3): 663–692. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Boltz, Marilyn G.
2005 “The Cognitive Processing of Film and Musical Soundtracks.” Memory & Cognition 32(7): 1194–1205. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Chanda, Mona Lisa, and Daniel J. Levitin
2013 “The Neurochemistry of Music.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 17 (4): 179–193. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Costa, Marco
2012 “Effects of Mode, Consonance, and Register in Visual and Word-Evaluation Affective Priming Experiments.” Psychology of Music 41 (6): 713–728. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Costabile, Kristi A., and Amanda W. Terman
2013 “Effects of Film Music on Psychological Transportation and Narrative Persuasion.” Basic and Applied Social Psychology 35: 316–324. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
de l’Etoile, Shannon K.
2002 “The Effect of a Musical Mood Induction Procedure on Mood State-Dependent Word Retrieval.” Journal of Music Therapy 39 (2): 145–160. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Hubscher-Davidson, Séverine
2013 “Emotional Intelligence and Translation: A New Bridge.” Meta: Translators’ Journal 58 (2): 324–346. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2016 “Trait Emotional Intelligence and Translation: A Study of Professional Translators.” Target 28 (1): 132–157. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Isen, Alice M., Mitzi M. Johnson, Elisabeth Mertz, and Gregory F. Robinson
1985 “The Influence of Positive Affect on the Unusualness of Word Associations.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 48 (6): 1413–1426. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Jääskeläinen, Riitta
1996 “Hard Work Will Bear Beautiful Fruit: A Comparison of Two Think-Aloud Protocol Studies.” Meta: Translators’ Journal 41 (1): 60–74. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Kämpfe, Juliane, Peter Sedlmeier, and Frank Renkewitz
2011 “The Impact of Background Music on Adult Listeners: A Meta-Analysis.” Psychology of Music 39 (4): 424–448. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Kenealy, Pamela
1988 “Validation of a Music Mood Induction Procedure: Some Preliminary Findings.” Cognition and Emotion 2 (1): 41–48. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Kivy, Peter
1999 “Feeling the Musical Emotions.” The British Journal of Aesthetics 39 (1): 1–13. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2007Music, Language, and Cognition: And Other Essays in the Aesthetics of Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Larsen, Randy J.
2000 “Toward a Science of Mood Regulation.” Psychological Inquiry 11 (3): 129–141. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Lehr, Caroline
2013 “Influence of Emotion on Cognitive Processing in Translation.” Paper presented at the International Online Workshop on Affective Factors in Translation Process Research: To Feel or Not to Feel? That is the Question, Aston University, December 6.
Levine, Linda J., and Stewart L. Burgess
1997 “Beyond General Arousal: Effects of Specific Emotions on Memory.” Social Cognition 15 (3): 157–181. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Levine, Linda J., and Robin S. Edelstein
2009 “Emotion and Memory Narrowing: A Review and Goal-Relevance Approach.” Cognition and Emotion 23 (5), 833–875. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Levitin, Daniel J.
2006This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. New York: Dutton.Google Scholar
Liebman, Elad, Peter Stone, and Corey N. White
2015 “How Music Alters Decision Making: Impact of Music Stimuli on Emotional Classification.” In Proceedings of the 16th International Society for Music Information Retrieval (ISMIR) Conference, edited by Meinard Müller and Frans Wiering, 793–799. Málaga: International Society for Music Information Retrieval.Google Scholar
Munday, Jeremy
2012Evaluation in Translation: Critical Points of Translator Decision-Making. London: Routledge. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Naranjo, Beatriz
2018 “Moving Music for Moving Source Texts: The Influence of Emotional Music in Translation Performance.” Translation, Cognition & Behavior 1 (2): 319–340. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2020 “Can Music Inspire Translators? Using Background Music as a Trigger for Narrative Engagement in Literary Translation.” Translation and Interpreting Studies. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Niedenthal, Paula M., and Marc B. Setterlund
1994 “Emotion Congruence in Perception.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 20 (4): 401–411. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Nguyen, Phuong T., and Lauren F. V. Scharff
2003 “A New Test of Music Mood Induction and Mood Congruent Memory.” Paper delivered at the 44th Annual Meeting of the Psychonomics Society, Vancouver, November 6–9.
O’Brien, Sharon
ed. 2011Cognitive Explorations of Translation. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
Rojo, Ana
2017 “The Role of Emotions.” In The Handbook of Translation and Cognition, edited by John W. Schwieter and Aline Ferreira, 369–385. Malden: Wiley Blackwell. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Rojo, Ana, and Marina Ramos Caro
2016 “Can Emotion Stir Translation Skill? Defining the Impact of Positive and Negative Emotions on Translation Performance.” In Reembedding Translation Process Research, edited by Ricardo Muñoz Martín, 107–130. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Rojo López, Ana María
ed. 2019La investigación de la creatividad en traducción: Resultados del proyecto TRANSCREA [Investigating creativity in translation: Results of the TRANSCREA project]. Granada: Comares.Google Scholar
Scherer, Klaus R., and Marel R. Zentner
2001 “Emotional Effects of Music: Production Rules.” In Music and Emotion: Theory and Research, edited by Patrick N. Juslin and John A. Sloboda, 361–391. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Scherer, Klaus R., and Didier Grandjean
2012 “Music, Language, Speech and Brain: An Evolutionary and Aesthetic Perspective.” Paper delivered at the International Summer School in Affective Sciences, Swiss Center for Affective Sciences, Geneva, August 25.
Shreve, Gregory M., and Erik Angelone
eds. 2010Translation and Cognition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Schwieter, John W., and Aline Ferreira
2017The Handbook of Translation and Cognition. Malden: Wiley Blackwell. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Tan, Siu-Lan, Peter Pfordresher, and Rom Harré
2010Psychology of Music: From Sound to Significance. New York: Psychology Press. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Tesoriero, Michael, and Nikkie S. Rickard
2012 “Music-Enhanced Recall: An Effect of Mood Congruence, Emotion Arousal or Emotion Function?Musicae Scientiae 16 (3): 340–356. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Tirkkonen-Condit, Sonja, and Johanna Laukkanen
1996 “Evaluations: A Key Towards Understanding the Affective Dimension of Translational Decisions.” Meta: Translators’ Journal 41 (1): 45–59. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Västfjäll, Daniel
2002 “Emotion Induction through Music: A Review of the Musical Mood Induction Procedure.” Musicae Scientiae 5 (1): 173–211.Google Scholar
2010 “Indirect Perceptual, Cognitive, and Behavioural Measures.” In Handbook of Music and Emotion: Theory, Research, Applications, edited by Patrick N. Juslin and John. A. Sloboda, 255–277. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Velten, Emmett
1968 “A Laboratory Task for Induction of Mood States.” Behaviour Research and Therapy 6: 473–82. DOI logoGoogle Scholar