Date of Award

Spring 6-3-2017

Document Type

Honors Project

University Scholars Director

Dr. Jeff Keuss

First Advisor/Committee Member

Dr. Carlene Brown

Second Advisor/Committee Member

Dr. Brian Chin


This paper examines the musical philosophy of composer John Cage in terms of psychological theories and experimental design. A literature review was first conducted to extract testable hypotheses from Cage’s musical works, writings, and interviews relevant to theories and research in empirical aesthetics. A study was then devised to examine the relationships between cognitive appraisals of the interestingness, enjoyableness, orderliness, and musicality of general sound events, as well as to determine the influence of openness to experience and the effect of two intentional-listening strategies, inspired by Cage’s ideas, on these relationships. Participants (n = 21) completed an openness to experience questionnaire, listened to 20 sound recordings, and responded to each sound on a cognitive appraisal form. Participants were also randomly assigned to one of three groups (n = 7) and were encouraged to adopt one of two intentional listening strategies, or no strategy, depending on assignment. The analysis found significant relationships for interestingness, enjoyableness, and orderliness in predicting musicality, though scatter plot distributions suggest that orderliness is less essential to musicality than interestingness and enjoyableness. Openness to experience was found to be insignificant for all appraisals and relationships, as were the listening strategies, with one exception: appraisals of interestingness were found to decrease as a result of adopting a Cage-inspired listening strategy, though the validity of this result is suspect.


A project submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the University Scholars Program

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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