The power of music: music and open-mindedness to other cultures

Peter MosaferiadisIntercultural understanding

The power of music: music and open-mindedness to other cultures

In a globalized world, our children will live and work with more and more people from different ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. To succeed in this new, internationalized world, they will need to be flexible and open-minded. But how do we train and equip them for this new and exciting life?

A recent study by Eric Clarke, Tia DeNora and Jonna Vuoskoski (2015) at the University of Oxford and Exeter University in the United Kingdom examined the potential of music in creating intercultural understanding.

61 participants (aged 18 to 45) were randomly assigned to hear either the Indian musical piece, Harjaiyaan, performed in Hindi by Nandini Srikar, or the West African musical piece, Wililé, sung in Wassoulou by Fatoumata Diawara.

The participants then took an Implicit Association Test – a test that reveals their varying preferences towards different cultures, as well as another test to reveal their emotional response to the music they heard.

The study revealed that those who listened to West African music were more likely to empathize with West African culture compared to Indian culture, and vice versa. One of the explanations the researchers offered for this phenomenon is that individuals are likely to mimic the musical tones internally, making them feel emotionally connected with the music and its cultural origins.

Although this piece of research does not test how long this intercultural attachment will last, it does offer a good look at the potential of music in bridging intercultural differences. Therefore, exposing your child to music from diversified origins might be the first step in developing the cultural open-mindedness that equips our children with the skills they need to build a better future.



Clarke, E., DeNora, T., & Vuoskoski, J., (2015). Cultural value: Music, Empathy, and Cultural Understanding. Arts & Humanities Research Council. Retrieved on 6 May 2016 on NCBI